Watch: 'American Idol' Judges Let Trans Teen Hopeful Down Easy

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 22, 2021
Originally published on February 22, 2021

Ace Stiles
Ace Stiles  (Source:Screenshot/ABC/YouTube)

The judges of "American Idol" offered praise and support to trans teen contestant Ace Stiles, but turned him away all the same, People magazine reports.

Stiles, 16, auditioned for the popular program on the Feb. 21 episode, delivering a song called "Addicted" that he had written himself. Footage of the audition was intercut with interview footage in which Stiles recalled, "I definitely had to come out to myself before I decided to come out to everybody else. When I was 14 I had a moment of realization, if you will."

Stiles also related a story about being denied the use of either the men's or women's rooms when taking part in a school play, ET Canada reported. "They made me change in the closet," he recounted, adding that "it wasn't fun and made me cry".

Stiles' mother, Colleen, also appeared in the footage, saying, "A few years ago we noticed that Ace went from very gregarious and outgoing to suddenly very withdrawn and quiet. We saw him go into a deep depression." The reason for her child's change in mood was explained when Stiles "sat me down in his room and said, 'Mom, I have to tell you something. I'm a boy,' " Colleen told the camera. "I said, 'Okay.' "

Judges Katy Perry, Lionel Ritchie, and Luke Bryan asked the hopeful youth how many songs he'd written - "Fifty," he replied - and whether Ace was his "real name."

"Sure," Stiles told Katy Perry, who had asked about his name. "I'm trans, so I get to pick my name."

But this wasn't to be Stiles' season to shine on the program.

Perry called Stiles' voice "interesting," and said that it was "definitely very vintage-y, it's definitely very quirky," but cast a No vote.

"I think you've got something worth investing," Perry told the teen, whose eyes brimmed with tears. "It's going to get better in all the ways. The longer that you have more experience of life, of playing out, getting out of your comfort zone.

"Ace, we're here for you and we support you. I see it in you."

Bryan seconded Perry's No vote, saying that Stiles had an "introverted" style and noting the "quietness" of his voice. "I don't think it's quite ready for 'American Idol' yet," Bryan said.

Ritchie went against the prevailing opinion of the other two judges, voting Yes - but only after telling Stiles that he had a "dilemma" in questioning the "curiosity" in the teen's voice versus the "commanding" quality he wanted the teen to exhibit. Ritchie added that his vote was "to make you feel good about the fact that we believe in you."

Ritchie told the teen that the "Best class you ever took in your life" had happened "right here" in being turned down for the show.

"What we told you was your key to your future," Ritchie said.

Watch the audition clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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