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OPINION | PAPER TRAILS: 3 vocalists from state 'Idol' treats

by Sean Clancy | February 14, 2021 at 7:42 a.m.
Sean Clancy, Paper Trails columnist

The new season of "American Idol" has among its hopefuls not one, not two, but three young Arkansas singers.

Nia Renee of Little Rock and siblings Ethan and Joshua Kuntz of Murfreesboro will perform for celebrity judges during tonight's season premier at 7 on ABC, and viewers will get to see if the three make it to the next stage in Hollywood.

Renee is a 17-year-old student at Little Rock Central High School and the daughter of Naaman and Tamara Kelley. Like the other contestants, she auditioned virtually via Zoom in August and traveled to California to sing for judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry.

"It was awesome. The whole process was so cool to be a part of," she says.

She admits to being a bit nervous at first, but settled down after chatting with the judges.

"Just talking to them, they were so sweet and friendly and supportive. It really calmed me."

Renee grew up following "Idol" and biding her time until she was old enough to try out.

"I watched it with my mom and thought that I was definitely one day going to audition," she says.

She cites Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Mahalia Jackson as influences. She's also a huge Perry fan.

"I've listened to all her music and have seen her movie and all her videos. To be in the same room with her and singing for her was unbelievable."

Her "Idol" experience, she says, made her realize "I really want to pursue music. I always knew it but being on the show, performing for the judges, really clicked for me. Like, this is it, this is what I want to do."

Twenty-one-year-old Ethan, who performs as Lil' Skinny, is an "Idol" veteran. He had been performing for less than a year when he appeared in 2016 on Season 15 and was eliminated after the first round in Hollywood. Now he's back with baby brother, Joshua, a freshman at Murfreesboro High School.

"He looks exactly like I did back then," says Ethan, a senior at Ouachita Baptist University.

"When he was first on the show, it was my dream to be on it," Joshua says. "It's so surreal for me to be 15 just like he was and getting to do all of this."

They're not performing as a duo; Ethan leans toward the Southern rock of Whiskey Myers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, while Joshua prefers the pop music of Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus and others.

"I've worked for the last four or five years to get back to this point," Ethan says. "My brother started working for it when I did, and it's cool that we are both on the show."

Their parents, Damon and Michale Kuntz, have been supportive throughout, they say.

"We would not have any success whatsoever in music without our parents," Ethan says. "They have supported us and done everything they can to make our dreams come true."



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