‘American Idol’ Hopeful Katie Stevens Is Early Breakout Star

Teen has old-soul vocal chops and compelling backstory.

While it’s far too early to say which “American Idol” hopefuls will make it to the show’s coveted top-24 semifinal round, after Tuesday night’s premiere we know one thing for certain: Katie Stevens has become one of the ninth season’s early breakout personalities.

Her stirring family backstory is the fodder that “Idol” producers crave. Born into a large Portuguese family, Stevens, 16, is shown to be very close to her grandmother, who has taught her grandchildren her native language and is now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Luckily, the teen’s got old-soul vocal chops to go with her made-for-reality-TV biography. Simon Cowell reacted to her rendition of the jazz standard “At Last” (covered in recent years by Céline Dion and Beyoncé) by saying, “That’s a very difficult song to sing. I thought you sang it quite well.”

Stevens’ audition is not the only available glimpse of her talent. In April, she started a YouTube channel that includes both live performances and videos shot at home. In her first clip, in what appears to be a pageant competition, Stevens sings Katharine McPhee’s version of “Over the Rainbow.” More recently, in a series of videos taped after her Boston audition, she plays guitar and piano as she sings tunes like Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” and Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly.”

In a brief “About Me” statement on the site, Stevens writes, “I’m an aspiring artist! I’ll continually be uploading videos onto my channel, but you have to excuse the fact that the first couple videos may not be up for a little while until I get a hold of how to use YouTube! I hope you enjoy my channel! Leave comments for support.”

Additionally, last year Stevens was crowned Outstanding Teen by the Greater Watertown Scholarship Pageant. The Connecticut-based pageant committee highlighted her commitment to volunteerism. That dedication to helping others was on full display on Tuesday’s show, which included shots of Stevens feeding her grandmother at the dining room table and helping her slowly up the stairs.

“She’s probably not going to remember me much longer, so I want her to see me succeed in my dream,” Katie said through tears. “I really want to come home with good news because I know she’s not going to be with us much longer.”

Following her successful audition, greeted outside by her cheering family, Stevens made a call to her grandmother. They chatted in Portuguese and then Katie turned to the camera.

“She’s crying,” Stevens said.

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