'Absolute chaos': Arthur Gunn's bizarre finale night ghosting is 'the most epic "Idol" story of all time'

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·6 min read
Arthur Gunn on 'American Idol' Season 19's top seven night. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) ARTHUR GUNN
Arthur Gunn on 'American Idol' Season 19's top seven night. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) ARTHUR GUNN

In a new Instagram post, American Idol contestant Arthur Gunn is finally breaking his silence about his bizarre disappearing act at this past Sunday’s Idol Season 19 finale. However, it’s a seven-minute YouTube post from an Idol alumnus, detailing what allegedly transpired behind the scenes, that is really raising eyebrows — and raising even more questions.

On Sunday’s three-hour finale, all of the top 10 contestants were booked to perform with superstar guests, and it was advertised that Gunn would be dueting with Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow. A since-deleted photo of Crow and Gunn on the Idol set in their stage attire was even posted on American Idol's Instagram page that day, mere hours before the finale aired live coast-to-coast. But instead of Gunn, top 16 contestant Graham DeFranco, who apparently was only in the audience to cheer on his friend (and future Season 19 winner) Chayce Beckham, joined Crow for a seemingly unrehearsed medley of “Every Day Is a Winding Road” and “If It Makes You Happy.” 

Host Ryan Seacrest introduced DeFranco’s performance as “last-minute,” but gave no other details; the judges and contestants all appeared amused but confused as they looked on, and in the post-show press conference, judge Lionel Richie confessed that they didn’t “even know what happened.” The next day, a source close to Idol told Yahoo Entertainment, “Arthur decided at the last minute that he did not want to perform, and Graham stepped in,” but didn’t elaborate.

Fans were understandably worried that Gunn had fallen ill, was struggling with his mental health, or was dealing with some sort of personal emergency. But finally, on Tuesday, he published a lengthy but vague explanation of what happened. 

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“It was last minute decision but I couldn’t help but say no cause of some personal morals and values due to unpleasant environmental experiences,” Gunn wrote. “It’s not necessary to state it, it is what it is, so I felt like I had to move on, It’s not the show @americanidol to blame, they were there long before nor anyone related to show. I’m grateful for @americanidol for have given me this platform and helped me to reach out to you all. sometimes things happens and it happens for a reason I guess. I feel upset about it as much as all you might have, and I’m sorry if I did let down anyone but I felt like all these confrontations didn’t need to happen at the show, so I just had to move on from there, sometimes all we can do is move on!!!” 

In a moment seemingly lacking in self-awareness, Gunn also noted that he wanted to “make it up” to Crow by inviting her to “perform couple of songs” at his July 30 concert at the 2,000-capacity Cotillion venue in his hometown of Wichita, Kan. — an offer that Crow is highly unlikely to accept.

The plot then thickened when Idol Season 14 runner-up Clark Beckham (not to be confused with new champ Chayce Beckham) posted a YouTube video captioned: “The Most Epic Idol Story of All Time.” 

According to Clark — who stressed that he had no direct knowledge of Gunn’s reasons for dropping out of the finale, but had spoken with DeFranco about the incident — Gunn refused to leave his trailer five minutes before he was supposed to perform with Crow, and Idol producers were pleading with him to emerge. Clark said that some of the producers had actually anticipated that Gunn, who had “quite the reputation of being difficult to work with,” might quit, and had approached DeFranco a few days before the finale about the possibility of him stepping in. However, when DeFranco didn’t hear back from anyone on Sunday, he assumed that all was well — so he was “terrified and excited, all at the same time” when a panicked producer suddenly plucked him from the studio audience and told him to get ready to sing after all. 

The decision was so last-minute that there was no time for a wardrobe change, so DeFranco went onstage in his everyday jeans, T-shirt, plaid flannel, and beanie. Ten seconds before the performance, a wardrobe assistant even ran onstage to pull the wallet and cell phone out of DeFranco’s bulging front pants pockets, while everyone on the set laughed hysterically at the ridiculousness of it all. “It's absolute chaos, live television at its finest. … What an amazing moment. What a way to freakin’ step up to the plate and nail it, save the day,” said Clark, who at the end of his video announced his plans to launch an Idol-themed chat show, on which the first guest will be DeFranco.

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Gunn’s participation in American Idol Season 19 had been controversial long before his finale no-show. The runner-up from Season 18, Gunn returned to the competition this year as part of the “Comeback,” a twist designed to give a second chance to one of the contestants robbed of the full, main-stage Idol experience when last year’s production was derailed by COVID-19. (This made Gunn’s abrupt withdrawal from Season 19’s splashy finale all the more surprising, considering that any of Season 18’s other nine Comeback contestants probably would have been thrilled to participate, let alone duet with someone of Crow’s stature.) While the Comeback gesture may have been well-intentioned, it completely backfired — generating viewer outrage when Gunn secured a spot in this year’s top 10, which was seen as taking away an opportunity from one the talented Season 19 contestants who arguably deserved it more.

This backlash only increased when Gunn then advanced to the top seven, and while that wasn’t Gunn’s fault, he hardly curried any favor with viewers when he ignored guest mentor Chris Martin’s advice and completely changed the melody of Coldplay’s “In My Place” that week. This stubborn move was decried as downright disrespectful by viewers, and it elicited sarcastic quips from Martin and a more overt scolding from judge Katy Perry. When Gunn bailed on Crow this past Sunday, fans speculated that his reason for leaving was because they had similarly clashed over her songs’ arrangements; however, Gunn's invitation to have Crow join him at his Wichita gig indicates that he harbors no ill will towards her.

Representatives for American Idol did not respond to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment regarding Arthur Gunn’s statement or Clark Beckham’s vlog, but they’ve certainly been busy all season fielding such queries, beginning with the unexpectedly vicious backlash to Kellyanne Conway’s daughter Claudia’s appearance on the premiere episode. Two frontrunners, Benson Boone and Wyatt Pike, then respectively dropped out of the top 24 and top 12 rounds with no explanation; another top 24 contestant, Cecil Ray, was arrested for burglary just days after his elimination; and then top five finalist Caleb Kennedy was disqualified 11 days before the finale after an old racist social media post resurfaced. 

So really, Gunn’s sudden return and even more sudden exit were just part of a season filled with “absolute chaos.”

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