The whole story behind Hickory native Johnny White's elimination from 'American Idol'

The whole story behind Hickory native Johnny White's elimination from 'American Idol'
Johnny White says he didn’t get nervous during his audition for the celebrity judges. “When I sing, I go to like a whole ’nother place. ... I (almost) didn’t know that they were there. ... I just kind of blocked things out.” (Credit: Guy D'Alema | ABC)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Theoden Janes | The Charlotte Observer)  - Johnny White — the Hickory native with the hard-knock childhood (born to a mom who was a drug addict and a dad who spent nine years in prison) — is back at his day job: putting together auto parts on the assembly line at GKN Driveline in Maiden, after being eliminated from "American Idol" on Monday night.

But the 19-year-old graduate of Hickory Career and Arts Magnet High School hasn't given up on his dreams.

"I'm going to start making some of my own music, and continue to push and you know get my name out there," White says. "I also think I will try out for 'Idol' again, and I have some other singing shows in mind I wouldn't mind giving a try as well."

PREVIOUS: He saw violence no child should witness. Now he sees hope – on 'American Idol.'

(In other words, keep an eye out for this young man in the future, "The Voice" fans...)

Before he puts his experience on Season 16 of "Idol" in his rear-view mirror, though, we asked for the full scoop on what happened to him during the group round of Hollywood Week — since ABC only spent a few precious seconds chronicling his elimination. Here are the highlights from our phone conversation with White on Tuesday afternoon.

1. The song his group performed was "Get Ready" by The Temptations. "It was familiar. I've heard it a couple times before — I thought it was a cool song — but I've never just tried singing it before."

2. And lack of sleep, White says, contributed to him forgetting the words to it. "We were (rehearsing) till, oh my gosh, 3-something in the morning. Then they said we had to get up around 5, so I think I only got like an hour of sleep. That's kind of what did it. I mean, learning music for me is really easy; it doesn't normally take me long to learn a song. So yeah, absolutely, I think that part of the reason why I couldn't remember my words was because of the amount of rest that I got. My mind was just so blank, and I was just so out of it. … But I remember (judge) Lionel Richie telling us, 'If you forget the words, whatever you do, do not stop singing.' So I made up words and added my own little flavor to it."

3. He wasn't the only singer who forgot the lyrics, so he tried to stay positive as the judges deliberated. "I had this gut feeling that I wasn't going to go through. But there were a lot of contestants in group round that forgot their words, so I was kind of just hoping, 'Well, since some of the others who forgot their words made it through, maybe I might still make it through, too.'"

4. But it wasn't meant to be. "When they came back and it was a no, I broke down — because this doesn't happen every day and I felt like it might be my only shot to do this. I felt like I let myself down just by forgetting words. But (after taking some time to let it sink in) I thought, just to make it that far, I'm grateful for that. It let me know that someone actually does see something in me. So when it all happened, I was hurt and thrown by it, but I also know everything happens for a reason. It's all a part of God's plan."

5. The memory from his "Idol" experience that might stay with White the longest? That time Lionel Richie stood behind him during the Savannah audition and coached him through "not overdoing it, and not letting my emotion take over so much to the point I lose control of what I'm doing. As it was happening, I wasn't really processing it all. I still didn't get what he was saying when he put his hands on my shoulder. But when I watched it back, I was like, 'Oh wow, OK, now I get exactly what it is he was saying. This is something I could work on.' Since then, I definitely have grown even more as a singer and as an artist."

6. He's glad the story of his struggles (and how he's overcome them) got out there. "To know I inspired a lot of people definitely motivates me, and makes me want to continue to do music. I don't plan on stopping. I'm not gonna just give up because of one thing — and the next time, I'll know what I'm getting myself into."

7. Finally: Now that he's out, he's Team Shannon O'Hara all the way. "I was just talking to her! I really am rooting for her."