Kennedy, a 16-year-old fan favorite, confirmed he'd be leaving the show ahead of the finale after a video surfaced of him sitting next to someone wearing what appears to be a Ku Klux Klan hood. Bryan told People it has been "a very, very challenging and upsetting week."
"First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids," the 44-year-old country star shared. (Kennedy was the only country contestant in this season's top five.) "We get emotionally involved in these kids. We want the best for Caleb. As far as the nuances on how ABC gets viewed, either way, decisions got made and it's our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us. But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb."
Richie, 71, added, "A lot of times, we think about it, we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, 'God, what was I thinking about when I did that?' This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us."
In a statement last Wednesday, Kennedy said the video "displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way."
"I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse," the South Carolina singer wrote. "I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I'll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I'm so sorry!"
Richie remarked that Kennedy "definitely has a talent."
"The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on," the legendary singer-songwriter continued. "But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he'll know what it's all about."
Although Kennedy was eliminated prior to Sunday's live show, no one former contestant took his place. The remaining four semifinalists Chayce Beckham, Casey Bishop, Grace Kinstler and Willie Spence all sang their hearts out, but it resulted in a shocking elimination. Bishop, who was Bryan's pick to win it all, was sent home. The American Idol finale will air on ABC next week.
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