American Idol contestant Grace Leer is carrying the torch for country music in the Season 18 Top 11 on the TV singing competition. The California native and current Nashville resident says she'll always find a way to imbue a bit of country flair into her performances, even when she's not singing a traditionally country song.

For her Top 20 performance, Leer chose Faith Hill's "Cry," but after she was announced as one of the remaining 11 finalists, the singer performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a selection that, per the week's theme, reminds her of home. The song is a classic that's been covered by, among others, Martina McBride and LeAnn Rimes, whose renditions Leer looked to as inspiration for her version.

"Just like what I did with "Natural Woman" [in a previous round], I took "Over the Rainbow" and knew I wanted to make it country, so I took influences from Martina McBride's version ... as well as LeAnn Rimes, so that's why it was very big and modeled after those powerful singers," Leer told media on a conference call following Sunday night's (May 3) Idol episode, noting that she worked with the AI band to make sure there was plenty of pedal steel in the arrangement.

"I understand that it wasn't a traditional country song ... but I definitely had those country influences to it and I'm still very happy with my performance," Leer continues. "But I understand, if given the opportunity to move forward, that I still way to play to the country audience."

After her Sunday night performance, judge Lionel Richie offered Leer the advice to remember her audience: "If country is your aim ... stay right there. Just hone in on where we're trying to go," he suggested. Leer says that while she appreciated Richie's feedback, she believes she balanced her country leanings with the theme of the episode, which was focused on songs that remind the contestants of home.

"They encouraged us to pick a song that reminds us of home, and, for me, immediately, "Over the Rainbow" was the first song that came to mind," Leer shares. "I didn't grow up in the South, but, for me, my love of country music is very much there, and I am a county artist through and through."

The next episode of American Idol is Sunday (May 10) at 8PM ET on ABC. The week's theme is Disney songs.

See Which Contestants Remain on Season 18 of American Idol:

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