ABC was clearly banking on the Conways as a draw for the show’s fourth season on the network. It promoted Claudia, 16, in commercials leading up to Sunday night’s two-hour broadcast, which also featured her father, George, and Kellyanne. One ad, tweeted out by Kellyanne and Claudia, described the teenager as a “social media sensation” whose parents were “high-profile political figures.”
Last summer, Claudia garnered headlines for viral tweets and TikToks that were critical of her parents and President Donald Trump. In August, Kellyanne left the White House, where she was a senior adviser, saying in a statement that she wanted to spend more time with her children. George also announced he was leaving the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans. Afterward, Claudia continued posting about her strained relationship with her parents to her 1.7 million followers on TikTok and documented a number of their contentious interactions on video.
“Idol” judge Katy Perry was apparently aware of some of this (or had at least been briefed), as she looked concerned when Claudia walked in for her audition, which was filmed in November.
“Uh — hi,” Perry said. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Claudia said.
“No?!" Perry asked.
Claudia laughed. “No,” she said. “But yes, I’m good.”
“Yes and no?” Perry pressed.
“Yeah,” Claudia agreed.
“What am I missing?” asked judge Luke Bryan, looking hopelessly confused.
Claudia introduced herself: “My mother is Kellyanne Conway. She worked for Donald Trump. And my dad is George Conway. He’s a lawyer. He worked against Donald Trump.”
“Wow,” the judges muttered simultaneously.
“It’s a lot, but, you know, I only want to spread love, and I love a compromise,” Claudia said. “And I do agree to disagree with my mom and my dad.”
In a prerecorded segment, Claudia explained more of her backstory: “When your mom’s working for the president of the United States, who you very much disagree with, it’s really hard.” Producers then showed Claudia in a room where contestants can talk to family and friends on video (a limited number of supporters are allowed in auditions this season because of pandemic safety measures) and featured Kellyanne giving her daughter a pep talk.
Claudia added that she finally felt like her voice was being heard through social media, even though the Internet “can be a very, very dark place.” “But when life is all going downhill, I have my music,” she said. “Now, I kind of want to get out of the controversy, get out of the drama, get out of the political whatever, and let people know that I am a singer and that this is what I want to do.”
Claudia started with Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” though the nerves got the best of her, and she stopped at one point to take off her uncomfortable shoes. She offered to sing another song, Adele’s “When We Were Young,” and Perry urged her to think about her difficult past while she performed.
“It’s like you lost your youth because you weren’t able to experience it on your own without all of this noise,” she said. “Your dad’s your dad, your mom’s your mom. Who is Claudia? You have to calm the storm that is around you.”
Claudia tried again, and the judges were much more approving. Cameras showed a shot of George on the other side of the door, choking up as he said, “I couldn’t imagine anything that would make her happier than to do this.”
Afterward, Bryan said Claudia sold her emotions “really, really well,” though her range was limited. Lionel Richie added that he was much more impressed by the second song. Perry urged her to stop reading social media comments.
Ultimately, Bryan voted no, though Perry and Richie voted yes, sending her through to the Hollywood finalist round that will air in several weeks. “I think what you’re doing right now is stepping forward and announcing who you are. You chose music. I want to give you a shot at music,” Richie said. They invited George into the room to celebrate.
“Claudia, you’re not going to D.C., honey. You’re going straight to Hollywood!” Perry announced. Claudia took her golden ticket and went to the video room to share the news with Kellyanne, who cheered and said she was very proud.
Back inside, the judges discussed their excitement over sending Claudia through. “God, I love this job,” Bryan said gleefully, no doubt echoing the producers and network executives who are thrilled that they will get even more attention — and are likely to spark controversy — for including her on the show.