Scott D. Pierce: Can a Utahn finally win on ‘American Idol’? Maybe.

Wyatt Pike is one of the favorites, and Liahona Olayan has plenty of talent.

(Photo courtesy of Eric McCandless/ABC) Ben Rector, left, performs with Utah contestant Wyatt Pike on "American Idol."

Update: Wyatt Pike has dropped out of “American Idol.” You can read the coverage here: https://www.sltrib.com/artsliving/2021/04/13/utah-finalist-quits


It’s entirely possible that the winner on Season 19 of “American Idol” could be a Utahn.

That’s not a prediction and it’s not hometown boosterism. If you watch the show, you’ll see that Park City’s Wyatt Pike is not only enormously talented, but he’s young, good looking, charming and has a great TV presence. And in a talent contest that’s not all about talent — the winner is chosen by viewers — that’s not insignificant.

The 20-year-old has been riding a wave on “American Idol” after going into the competition “without expectations.”

“I really had no idea. I just showed up every day like it was another round to make it through,” he said. “I’ve just been doing that all along, and it appears to have worked.

“It almost caught me by surprise that I ended up this far. … It was really just — I want to perform the best I can.”

That’s been more than enough to carry him to the top 24. After his performance in last Sunday’s episode, the judges gushed. Luke Bryan said Pike “feels like a star” and teared up. Lionel Richie praised his stage presence and added, “You owned that moment we just saw.” And Katy Perry called Pike “an authentic superstar musician” who could “go on tour today and fit in right now.”

Maybe that’s part of the reason that the Utahn has found the competition “easier” with each round. With fewer contestants, he has forged friendships not just with his fellow singers but with members of the production crew. “And you get a little bit more time with the vocal coaches. Everything is a little bit slower paced, which helps,” he says. “And also just getting comfortable as far as, ‘OK, I’ve now seen the judges a couple times. I know that they’re real people. I’m not going to be as starstruck as I was maybe the first audition.’

“The stakes are getting higher, but I’m not really feeling that pressure. I’m just focusing on my performance, and that’s getting easier because everything revolving around the performances is just getting smoother and less scary.”

(Photo courtesy of Eric McCandless/ABC) Liahona Olayan performs on "American Idol."

Another Utah contender

If 16-year-old Liahona Olayan is more of an “Idol” long shot, it’s certainly not because she lacks talent. And she has gained confidence as the competition has continued.

It hasn’t been easy. She was just 16 when she auditioned with her older brother, Ammon. They both advanced to Hollywood week — but when he was eliminated, Liahona went into a funk, delivered a weak performance in a duet with fellow contestant Laila Mach, and got a stern talking-to from Perry.

“Do you want to be here?” Perry asked. “There’s other people behind me that want it more.” Perry went on to tell Olayan that she was “wasting everybody’s time,” “sabotaging” herself and being “really selfish. … Don’t ever do that again.”

And that, Olayan said, was inspiring.

“I grew up in a very athletic family,” she said. “I did a lot of sports growing up, actually. And my dad was like my coach in a lot of things. And my parents actually speak to me the same way Katy Perry does.”

Her dad gives her some tough feedback when she plays volleyball, “because he sees the potential in me. So [Perry’s] words didn’t actually make me sad. They actually made me more determined to push myself harder,” Olayan said. “They really helped me to get out of my head and really focus, I think.

“She gave me a second chance. And the fact that she said those words shows that she sees so much potential in me.”

(Photo courtesy of Christopher Willard/ABC) Wyatt Pike wears his hat with the $2 bill tucked in the hatband on "American Idol." WYATT PIKE

About that hat

Before his most recent performances, Pike has almost always been seen on “Idol” sporting a hat with a $2 bill in the hatband. “I don’t think these are necessarily lucky,” he said. “But maybe they are.”

After his grandfather passed away, he started wearing one of his hats that’s very similar to the one we’ve seen him wearing on “Idol.” His mother bought him that one for his 18th birthday.

As for the $2 bill, he said he’s “just always liked them. I think they’re quirky and fun and I like having them around. They’re great to tip with, too.”

“But I don’t have some huge, like, ‘Oh, when I was struck by lightning, a $2 bill appeared in my hand’ story.”

The hat did help him stand out a bit among the thousands who auditioned. And it serves a more practical purpose.

“It helps to keep the hair out of my face, because that’s always a problem,” Pike said. “You could see that in my last performance when I didn’t wear it.”

(Photo courtesy of John Fleenor) Siblings Liahona and Ammon Olayan both made it to Hollywood week on "American Idol" — but Ammon was eliminated. LIAHONA OLAYAN, AMMON OLAYAN

Sibling rivalry

Liahona Olayan was disappointed and sad when her brother was sent home from the competition. Ammon was definitely disappointed, and he remains supportive of his sister.

But even as he roots for her, there’s a tinge of sibling rivalry.

“We are super competitive with everything,” Liahona said. “Whether it’s beating each other in basketball or seeing who can run up the stairs the fastest to grab the TV remote.

“So when he was eliminated, it was a big kick to his ego. He was, like, ‘Dang it! My younger sister beat me.’”

But Ammon remains her “biggest supporter,” she said. “He’s definitely very proud of me, for sure.”

Can a Utahn win?

First, they have to make it to the next round. Following their performances last weekend, Pike and Olayan will find out if they’re in the Top 16 on Sunday (7 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4). They’re in different groups of 12, and when the viewers’ votes are counted, four contestants will be eliminated from each group.

“I do think of that time period between singing and the votes being counted, that’s definitely going to be brutal,” Pike said.

On Sunday and moving forward, it all depends on how viewers vote. And it doesn’t hurt to have a big home-state following. Only three winners have come from states with fewer people than Utah.

Weirdly, Pike and Olayan might have a better chance if they were from North Carolina, which has been home to three “American Idol” winners. Alabama and Texas have each had two.

By the way, although “Idol” has identified the Olayans as Hawaiians, they live in Vineyard and attend Orem High School. (The family has moved back and forth from Hawaii to Utah a couple of times.)

A few years ago, Pike would’ve seemed even more likely to be a winner. Eight of the past nine winners when the show was on Fox were white males, and the show was criticized for that. “American Idol” didn’t crown a Hispanic winner until last year, when Just Sam (Samantha Diaz), who’s Black and Hispanic, won. Since moving to ABC, the winners have been a white female, a white/Korean male and Just Sam.

The closest a Utahn has come to winning was in 2008, when David Archuleta finished second. Those were the golden days for “American Idol” in the ratings — most episodes drew well over 20 million viewers, and several exceeded 30 million. (The current season of “Idol” is averaging about 6 million.)

The judges love Pike and Olayan. Although, truth be told, Perry, Bryan and Richie are full of praise for all the remaining contestants. (Long gone are the days of Simon Cowell belittling contestants.)

Pike is not THE favorite, but he is A favorite. Olayan is probably facing longer odds. But, sure, one of them could win. Maybe.