American Idol singer Cay Aliese says she's not following in her late father's footsteps. Instead, she's carrying the torch Nolan Neal lit and ran with on shows like The Voice and America's Got Talent.

Aliese is the 24-year-old daughter of Neal, an accomplished singer and songwriter who died after overdosing on drugs last summer.

"He didn't mean to die. He was a light for other people and he couldn't find that for himself," she told the American Idol judges during an audition that aired after the 2023 Oscars on Sunday (March 12).

  • Neal was a part of Adam Levine's team during Season 11 of The Voice (2016). He was eliminated during the Knockout Round.
  • In 2020 he appeared on Season 15 of AGT, performing a song called "Lost" that was about getting sober.
  • He was found dead in his Nashville apartment on July 18.

After telling her father's story to the three American Idol judges, Aliese — a mother from Dandridge, Tenn. — performed an original song called "City of Nashville." Music "makes me feel closer to him in a way," she shares in the above video, although she also admits that at times in her life, she focused on anything but music to stay clear of her dad's legacy.

"He kind of had record deal after record deal, opportunity after opportunity and he kinda kept blowing it," she offers matter-of-factly, before singing.

Talking to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Aliese opened up about this push and pull. "I think, in a way, I'm kind of carrying on the torch that I feel like he should have been able to carry," she says. "American Idol gave me the opportunity to just really go through the grieving process of losing my dad, but also find the artist that I want to be while he's not here and do things for myself."

Surprisingly, Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry didn't love the audition. They questioned her emotional tie to the song, or at least her ability to show it. In the end, the three felt the strength of her voice was enough to earn her a ticket to Hollywood.

It sounds like American Idol viewers will see Aliese again, but she may not move on to the final rounds. She talks about the judges in the past tense, for example, but she also shares she had time to meet someone she calls a best friend today.

"It's like, American Idol, in so many ways, has changed my life," she tells the newspaper.

Season 21 of American Idol will resume on Sunday (March 19).

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