Watch Crystal Lake Central grad Grace Kinstler advance to next round of ‘American Idol’

The Lakewood native said her dad, who died last year, would have been proud

Lakewood native Grace Kinstler got a golden ticket to advance to the next round of hit TV show “American Idol” after her voice brought one judge to tears in the show’s season premiere Sunday evening.

Kinstler, a 20-year-old graduate of Crystal Lake Central High School, said she was overjoyed when she heard that she would move on to the next round of the show in Hollywood, California.

“Getting a golden ticket gave me validation towards everything I’ve spent my life working towards; it let me know I’m on the right path in life,” she said in a written statement Sunday.

Kinstler was the very last contestant to appear before the show’s judges, which include pop star Katy Perry, country singer Luke Bryan and singer-songwriter Lionel Richie.

“What a voice,” Perry said after Kinstler finished her first song, “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips.

Kinstler went on to sing a rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin that brought Bryan to tears.

“This is the first time in four years that someone singing has made me cry,” Bryan said.

Perry said Kinstler’s performance gave her “full body chills,” and Richie compared her to the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. All three said they ranked her up with some of the best voices they ever heard on the show.

Leading up to her audition in Sunday’s episode, Kinstler said she struggled with nerves in the past and was using the memory of her father, who died unexpectedly in February 2020, to stay confident.

“I just keep thinking about how much he believed in me and trying to believe that much in myself,” she said. “I think he would be heartbroken if I just gave up because I got sad so this is like – it’s hard but it’s also extra motivation to keep going.”

Kinstler said she felt like her dad was with her during the audition and she made him proud by earning a golden ticket from the judges.

“I felt like he was here and like I could do it, so he would be really happy,” she said in the show after her audition.

After watching “American Idol” with her dad and mom for years, Kinstler auditioned for this season’s show first over Zoom, she said earlier this month. She later flew out to Los Angeles to audition for the show’s three judges on what would become the season premiere of the show.

“It was crazy,” Kinstler said. “I went from the comfort of my home to L.A., in front of three of the biggest stars right now in the music industry.”

Kinstler has been singing since she was 4 or 5 years old and won a national vocal competition as a high schooler, according to reporting by the Northwest Herald. Before appearing on the show, she released two EPs and was an anthem singer for both the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox.

“I almost cried, but I didn’t. I stopped myself,” Kinstler said on the premiere episode after receiving her ticket to Hollywood.

“It’s bittersweet for all of us to not have my dad here,” she told the Northwest Herald earlier this month. “But I just want to make him proud. And I think my mom is just so excited for me that in such a dark year, I got to have something to brighten it a little bit.”

Kelli Duncan - Northwest Herald

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.