Standout singer in a wheelchair: 'It's time for an American Idol that isn't perfect'

Marna’s audition definitely wasn’t perfect. She had a strong set of pipes, a nice warm tone, an expressive face, and what judge Luke Bryan described as an “incredible range” — but Luke wanted more “cry” in her voice, Lionel Richie pointed out that she was rushing towards the big notes, and Katy Perry though Marna needed to “scoop” less when approaching those dramatic moments. But right there in the room, Marna heeded the judges’ advice and immediately improved.

“You really aced that exercise,” observed Katy, before Marna received three “big yeses” from the impressed panel. “This is where my future starts, I truly believe that,” Marna declared.

So now Marna is off to Hollywood, and she is eager to keep proving herself, happily knowing that she won’t benefit from any preferential treatment or tokenism and will be judged solely on her talent. (“We are going to treat you the same and put the same pressure on you… and you’re going to do just fine,” Katy told her.) Marna has the right attitude, having already gone farther than any doctors had ever predicted, living a full and independent adult life. “It’s everything that my parents were not expecting — because they were told not to,” she said. “I would not change it for the world. I love my disability.” 

And regardless of how far Marna makes it in Season 18, she’s already made a difference just by auditioning on network television. “Growing up, I never had someone who was in a wheelchair who I looked up to. My closest person that resembled me growing up, because I used to wear leg braces, was Forest Gump,” she explained to Ryan. “I want to be that inspiration for that little girl or little boy that’s looking at the TV going, ‘Where am I? How am I being represented?’”

It was an emotional evening for Idol in other ways, because Katy, after revealing her pregnancy in last week’s “Never Worn White” music video, showed off her “fourth judge” baby bump to her fellow judges. “Two paychecks?” joked Lionel, referring to Katy’s famous Idol salary of $25 million a year. Probably not, but Fremantle might want to increase the series’s famous on-set snack budget, now that Katy is snacking for two.