Fact Check

Did 'American Idol' Finalist Leave Show Over Video Featuring KKK-Style Hood?

Caleb Kennedy, 16, of South Carolina, was seen in footage sitting next to someone wearing what looked like racist garb.

Published May 13, 2021

 (Wiki Commons)
Image Via Wiki Commons
In May 2021, "American Idol" finalist Caleb Kennedy, 16, left the show after a video went viral showing him sitting next to someone wearing a KKK-style white hood.

Kennedy's mother claimed the footage "had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan." Kennedy himself said "it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way." The teenager apologized to fans on social media and indeed left "American Idol."

In mid-May 2021, Snopes became aware of reports alleging "American Idol" finalist Caleb Kennedy, 16, was leaving the show after a video of him sitting next to someone wearing a KKK-style hood emerged on social media.

The reports were true. On May 12, Kennedy, who was one of five remaining contestants for the season, posted the below-transcribed message on his official social media accounts along with the caption: "An update from me, about American Idol."

Hey y'all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise but I am no longer gonna be on American Idol. There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way. I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that's not an excuse. I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I'll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I'm so sorry! I pray that I can one day regain your trust in who I am and have your respect! Thank you for supporting me.

In other words, Kennedy, a South Carolina native, confirmed that he was leaving season 19 of the talent show following the widespread circulation of some type of controversial footage.

Additionally, an anonymous source told People magazine on the same day: "American Idol contestant Caleb Kennedy will no longer be moving forward in the competition. Sunday's episode will feature the Top 4 with one contestant elimination."

Neither that statement, nor the teenager's post, elaborated on the specific circumstances of his departure.

However, based on our analysis of viral posts about him, as well as news stories from reputable outlets including The Washington Post, we can confirm that Kennedy's reference to "a video that surfaced on the internet" was alluding to a Snapchat video that showed him sitting next to someone seemingly wearing the garb of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist hate group.

That video gained heavy traction online after YouTube comedian Def Noodles, whose real name is Dennis Feitosa, tweeted it around midnight on May 11. It's unclear how Feitosa first came across the footage.

Furthermore, it's unclear when, exactly, Kennedy recorded the video, to whom he sent it, or how it surfaced publicly online. Citing his family, South Carolina's Spartanburg Herald-Journal said he was 12 at the time of the recording. His mother, Anita Guy, told that newspaper:

"This video was taken after Caleb had watched the movie 'The Strangers: Prey at Night' and they were imitating those characters. It had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that's how it looks. Caleb doesn't have a racist bone in his body. He loves everyone and has friends of all races."

Neither ABC nor "American Idol" has issued a public statement about Kennedy's departure, as of this writing. Archived footage of his performances has been removed from the show’s official YouTube channel and social media accounts.

In sum, considering Kennedy's statement, as well as the verified media coverage, we rate this claim "True."

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.