—A special education teacher from Boise, Idaho, is now a contestant for “American Idol” after she impressed the judges with both her singing chops and incredible spirit. Her feat is especially heartwarming because she’d all but given up on singing after gaining weight in high school and subsequently losing confidence.
Maddie Zham, 19, brought someone unexpected with her to the audition: her best friend of six years, Marcus, who has down syndrome.
Zham said she met Marcus when she was a “low” point her in life. She was a senior in high school when she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which explained the hormone imbalances that caused her to gain 100 pounds in just a year.
The weight gain caused Zham to lose her confidence, friends and even music, she said.
“I felt like I couldn’t perform because I was just so embarrassed of who I was,” she said.
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Posted by American Idol on Sunday, March 18, 2018
It was during that time when she met Marcus, by accidentally stumbling into a music class for students with disabilities.
“And it turns out, that was the best mistake I ever made,” she said.
At the time, Marcus was belting out a Katy Perry song.
“I just knew that he was someone that I needed to meet,” she said. “I could sense that he needed a friend too.”
Even after graduation, the pair’s kinship remains strong. Zham even takes him on car rides and adventures every week, she said, adding that “pushing Marcus to be social has actually encouraged” her to gain her confidence back.
“He has just been such a kind person in my life and sees me for the things that I wanted people to see me for,” Zham said.
Zham began her “American Idol” audition by telling the judges that she was accompanied by her family and best friend of six years, who has down syndrome.
“He’s part of the reason that I sing,” she said.
Upon hearing Zham’s introduction, the judges immediately asked for Marcus to join them, pulling up a fourth chair so he could witness his best friend give the most important performance of her life.
“Marcus, you wanna sit with us while we listen to your best friend play?” Perry asked him as the camera panned to a close-up of his shirt. It read, “My best friend is the next American Idol,” and featured a photo of him and Zham.”
“He’s not wrong,” Perry said.
Zham then played a rendition of “New Rules” by Dua Lipa, accompanied by her acoustic guitar, which gained nods of approval from all three judges.
“Now, I’m dying to hear a song between the two of you,” Lionel Richie told the pair.
Zham then played Perry’s “Firework” as Marcus sang along. Perry, who appeared genuinely enthralled, lip synced along.
“Maddie, you’ve got a set of pipes on you,” Perry told her. “You’re an incredible woman.”
“I think you’ve got great potential,” Richie said.
The only constructive criticism came from Luke Bryan, who told Zham that he can get “a little timid,” instructing her to “let it all out.”
After that, the judges said in unison the four-word phrase that every “American Idol” hopeful craves to hear: “You’re going to Hollywood.”
Zham and Marcus appeared ecstatic.
“I’m just excited to embrace who I am and to stand up for those who do not fit the mold,” she said.