Caleb Kennedy entered the Showstopper/Final Judgment round of American Idol planning to perform a Travis Tritt cover, but the South Carolina native made a last-minute switch before the show's episode on Sunday night (March 28), opting instead to perform his original song, "When You Leave Tonight."

"I don't think it's a risk to sing an original song, because an original song is how I got here," Kennedy explained, referencing his Idol audition, where he floored all three judges with his world-weary and rasping "Nowhere." Once again, the 16-year-old contestant delivered grittiness beyond his years, with a bristling, hard-edged but soulful ballad that would fit neatly into Tucker Beathard's discography.

"I did plan to do a big old show like everybody else did, and then one of them gut feelings came along to just do an original. So I took it and I ran with it," Kennedy explained to judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan (Lionel Richie was not physically present during Sunday night's episode, instead dialing into the show over Zoom due to a potential COVID-19 exposure.)

While the judges weren't quite as blown away by "When You Leave Tonight" as they had been by his original audition song, they continued to be impressed by his songwriting skills, and ultimately advanced him to the show's Top 24.

Kennedy's not the only gritty, country-leaning performer to advance during Sunday's episode: Also joining him in the Top 24 is Chayce Beckham, who previously shared the story of his recovery from a precipitous relationship with alcohol and a near-fatal car crash. For his performance last week, Beckham offered up Tyler Childers' haunting "Hard Times". On Sunday, he continued to demonstrate his skills for hard-hitting traditional country, performing Chris Stapleton's "You Should Probably Leave."

Stapleton included "You Should Probably Leave" on his latest album, Starting Over, which came out in November of 2020. However, the song had been an unreleased fan favorite for years, with concertgoers clamoring for it during the singer's live shows.

Like his fellow contestant Kennedy, Beckham didn't wow the judges with his Showstoppers performance as decisively as he has in the past, and Bryan wondered if his voice was "a little shot." Still, he advanced to the next round of performances.

American Idol airs on ABC on Sunday and Monday nights at 8PM ET. On Monday (March 29), show will continue its Showstopper/Final Judgment rounds.

Where Are They Now? Country's Biggest American Idol Stars: 

More From Y95 Country