Braham graduate Caleb Flynn heads to Hollywood on “American Idol”

If you watched “American Idol” last Wednesday night, Jan. 16, you may have seen glimpses of a familiar face.

Caleb Flynn holds his American Idol ‘Golden Ticket’ to Hollywood with his wife, Ashley, by his side.
Caleb Flynn holds his “American Idol” ‘Golden Ticket’ to Hollywood with his wife, Ashley, by his side. Photos provided by Caleb Flynn.

Caleb Flynn, a 2005 graduate of Braham Area High School,  and starting guard for the 2004 and 2005 state championship basketball teams, is on his way to Hollywood.

Out of the tens of thousands who auditioned for “American Idol” this past summer in Chicago, Flynn, son of Pastor Mike and Kim Flynn of Open Arms Church of God in Grasston, was one of 46 singers from the Chicago auditions to earn his ‘Golden Ticket’ to Hollywood.

“American Idol,” in its 12th season, held auditions all across the country this summer listening to thousands of singers who dream of making it big in the music industry.

Flynn sent in a video audition of him singing “Lean on Me” for this season of “American Idol” on the last day video auditions were accepted in August. A month later, he received a call from an “American Idol” producer.

“I was at a birthday party on a Thursday night when I got a call from ‘American Idol,’” Flynn explained in a phone interview last week. “He told me they liked what they heard and said I had to be in Chicago on Saturday. I had actually let the call go to voice mail because I didn’t recognize the phone number. But then as I listened to it, I turned to my wife and then put the call on speaker phone. It was a complete shock.”

Flynn, who currently lives in Tipp City, Ohio, serves as a worship arts pastor for Living Word Church. He met his wife, Ashley, while attending college at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. Flynn explained Ashley graduated a semester before him and found a job near her family in Ohio.

After he graduated with a pastoral and music ministry degree, he also looked for jobs near Ashley, and has been with Living Word Church since 2010.

Flynn auditioned live for “American Idol” in Chicago in mid-September, with the first auditions airing on FOX during “American Idol’s” premiere week last week. FOX will continue airing auditions over the next several weeks on Wednesday and Thursday nights from auditions held in Charlotte, N.C., Oklahoma City, Baton Rouge, La., San Antonio, Texas and Los Angeles. Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 people audition in each city.

“I was at home last Wednesday night watching the show with my wife, and my mother and father-in-law,” Flynn said. “I think someone screamed every time I was on television. It was really fun and kind of weird seeing myself on television. It was just surreal.”

Flynn said on the day he auditioned in Chicago before the celebrity judges, over 100 singers auditioned. He was one of 18 singers that day to get a ‘Golden Ticket.’

The approximately 200 singers who receive their ‘Golden Ticket’ from the auditions continue their journey in Hollywood Week, where the contestants perform more songs before the judges with contestants being eliminated. Hollywood Week is also taped, and episodes will air on FOX after all the audition shows have aired.

Caleb Flynn sings for the celebrity judges on American Idol.
Caleb Flynn sings for the celebrity judges on “American Idol.”

The contestants who make it through all the elimination rounds then have a chance to appear on the “American Idol” live shows beginning at the end of February, with a winner being crowned by viewers at the end of May.

Singing before the celebrity judges

Once arriving in Chicago, Flynn had to sing before two different rounds of “American Idol” executive producers. They liked what they heard, so he was invited back Tuesday to sing before the celebrity judges at the planetarium in Chicago.

Celebrity judges for this season of “American Idol” include Mariah Carey, the best-selling female recording artist of all time; Randy Jackson, a Grammy Award-winning producer; Nicki Minaj, quadruple-platinum singer, songwriter, rapper and fashion icon; and Keith Urban, a four-time Grammy Award winner who has sold more than 15 million albums.

Flynn said he and his wife, his parents, his wife’s parents, and other family members arrived with him in Chicago at 7 a.m. on the day of his auditions before the celebrity judges.

“I was finally about to audition, when the producers told me the judges were going to take a lunch break,” Flynn said. “So, we waited some more and I finally got to sing around 4 p.m. I walked out from behind the curtain and saw the four judges, and there were just lights and cameras everywhere. They asked me who I was and where I was from, and before I sang they said we’ve waited all day for me. I responded back and said, ‘Well good things come to those who wait.’ I sang “Lean on Me” first and then they asked me to sing another song, so I sang “Grenade” by Bruno Mars.

Caleb Flynn is interviewed by "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest.
Caleb Flynn is interviewed by “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest.

“When I was finished Randy Jackson said it was ‘good stuff.’ Mariah Carey said it ‘uplifted her spirits.’ Keith Urban said it was really, ‘cool,’ and Nicki Minaj nodded her head and said it was ‘really nice.’ I got all four yeses from the judges,” he added.

Flynn said he had to wait a few minutes, and then was able to walk down the hallway and rejoin his family with his ‘Golden Ticket’ in hand.

“As I walked down the hallway, my family saw the ‘Golden Ticket’ and just started screaming,” Flynn said. “[‘American Idol’ host] Ryan Seacrest was giving everyone high-fives and cheering and it was just crazy. Ryan was just the most down-to-earth person and just one of the nicest guys. It was such a cool opportunity and such a moment of excitement and joy and happiness.”

Flynn’s father agrees with his son’s opinion of Seacrest.

“I remember after Caleb walked down with his ‘Golden Ticket,’ Ryan Seacrest just grabbed me and was jumping up and down with me and I remember thinking, I just wanted to hug Caleb but he wouldn’t let go,” Pastor Flynn said. “Ryan seemed to genuinely care about how Caleb was doing and really seemed to care when he was interviewing him.”

Flynn said he wasn’t that nervous auditioning before the celebrity judges.

“Growing up, my voice was pretty shaky, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s been easier for me and I don’t get as nervous,” Flynn said. “I feel my level of excitement overcame my level of nervousness. I went into the auditions knowing I already have an awesome job and an amazing wife, and I just put my trust in the Lord during the entire process. I just told myself, if I don’t make it, it’s OK, because I already have such a wonderful life.”

Flynn said after he celebrated his ‘Golden Ticket’ with his family for a little while, he had six hours of paperwork to do. He had paperwork to fill out, had to take a 500-question test, meet with two psychiatrists and a legal representative of “American Idol.” He also got to meet with the main music producers who produce the album for the “American Idol” winner.

Flynn first auditioned for season nine of “American Idol” in Atlanta while attending Lee University.

“At that time, I made it through a couple of rounds and went pretty far, but didn’t make it to Hollywood,” Flynn said. “I took it kind of personally, and said I’ll never do it again. However, this past August my wife and I went to Disneyworld for an anniversary. They were holding their own version of ‘American Idol,’ and at first I said I didn’t want to do it. But as the day went on, I decided to enter the competition. Four rounds later, and seven hours later, I won the Disneyworld version of ‘American Idol.’ Because I won the contest, they gave me a front-of-the-line ticket to audition at an actual regional audition for ‘American Idol’ for the next season. But after my mother-in-law informed me they were taking video auditions for this season of ‘American Idol,’ I decided to audition.”

Destined for a music career

Flynn explained he has always had a passion for making music.

“As long as I could make noises and hum, I’ve wanted to make music,” Flynn said. “I grew up in the music department of my parents’ church and was always playing with the piano or the drums. I’ve been making music forever.”

Flynn’s father realized there was something special about his son at a young age.

“I realized there was something in Caleb with his musical inclination when he was 2, 3 or 4 years old,” Pastor Flynn said. “I remember one time when he was in my work truck listening to tapes and he was keeping double-time beat on the dashboard and I remember thinking, he’s actually on beat.”

Pastor Flynn explained the family, who moved to Braham in 1991, remembers a particular Christmas program.

“Caleb was 6 at the time and was playing the Drummer Boy in the church Christmas program,” he said. “The place was packed, and he came out with his shepherd outfit on and was carrying a little tambourine with a single drumstick. He came in singing and came past me, and I could just feel there was something there. With the way he was playing and singing, you could tell he was more than just a cute little kid. When I walked toward the center aisle to watch him, I could see people weeping and learned truly the impact he was having on people.”

Pastor Flynn was also in a worship band with family members.

“We traveled around as a trio and once we bought a set of drums we had Caleb as our drummer,” Flynn said. “He was my drummer of our praise band at 10 or 11 years old, and was probably our best musician.”

Caleb continued his pursuit of a music career, even while serving as the starting guard for the 2004 and 2005  state championship basketball teams.

“When Caleb was a senior, in the middle of the basketball season he was asked to play Jesus in the musical ‘Godspell,’” Pastor Flynn explained. “I remember at the end of ‘Godspell’ he’s crucified on the jungle gym and just laying on his back singing his song. The place was just silent and there were some intense moments. It felt like a repeat of when he was 6. He just has passion and determination in everything he does.”

Caleb thanks everyone for the support he’s been given.

“My wife, family and friends have been my biggest supporters,” Flynn said. “During the holidays, my family would always end up around the piano singing songs — that’s all I knew. I love all kinds of music and just try to put my own unique spin on it.”

Flynn said everyone at the Living Word Church, that has a congregation of 1,500 people, has been very supportive.

“My boss and pastor at Living Word Church has been 100 percent supportive,” Flynn said. “He knew when I was first audition because I had to take some time off work, but I wasn’t able to tell anyone else at the church until last week. That was really hard keeping it from everyone, but ‘American Idol’ is big on confidentiality agreements.”

Flynn wants to make a difference with his music.

“Since I’m a music pastor, I know the power of music,” Flynn said. “I know what it can do and realize that just one chord of song can change someone’s mood. I know the power of music and the message that comes with it. It’s a dream of mine to do that for someone else with my music.”

Flynn said no matter how his ‘American Idol’ journey turns out, he his grateful for the opportunity.

“I’m hoping to make albums and go on tour and allow my music to touch someone and use this talent the great Lord has given me,” Flynn said. “I see ‘American Idol’ as a springboard or platform for that. Hopefully this opportunity will open some doors for me and allow me to pursue my dreams. I truly believe the Lord has got some big plans out there for my wife and I.”