Meet 2024’s ‘American Idol’ Top 10 Contestants

Born: June 14, 2000 – Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Favorite Alums: Chris Daughtry, James Durbin

Musical Influences: Bon Jovi, Journey, Whitesnake, Queen, Ed Sheeran

First Idol Experience: “When Chris Daughtry got voted off, I wrote a handwritten letter to American Idol and said, ‘You made a mistake. This guy’s a star.’”

“I have older parents and they looked in the Yellow Pages to find a piano teacher. My dad said, ‘I want you to teach my son. He’s three years old. And the teacher said, ‘We normally like them to read English before they read music.’ My dad told him, ‘He reads, let’s get him in. We’ve got to start him early.’ So I went to his studio and my little legs didn’t touch the floor. I was swinging off the piano bench and I learned how to read music along with English. When I was 10, my parents asked if I actually liked taking lessons. I said, ‘I’ve been doing it forever, so I might as well keep doing it. It’s a part of my identity at this point.’”

Kayko says he was always a music kid. “I did classical piano competitions for a long time and then I always wanted to change the song and not play what’s on the page, so I did jazz. And I thought, ‘This really isn’t really my vibe. I’m a rocker. I would never do a singing competition, not even American Idol. I would never try out for that.’ And then I did theater.”  

After appearing in musicals like Side ShowIn the HeightsGhostCabaret and 9 to 5, Kayko turned to YouTube and Billboard to see what music was popular and was inspired to record cover songs. “I was definitely a YouTube kid and that’s how I learned how to produce my own music.”

Kayko attended Berklee College of Music for three semesters, until he realized he didn’t want go to school. “I quit and moved to Nashville. I needed to write and produce my own songs. I needed to book live shows. I had no mentorship or insight, just a dream of being an artist and putting out music.”

Kayko’s audition for Idol was unlike most other tryouts but he assures Billboard that what was shown on television was 100% true. “I don’t know if the world will ever believe that. One of my very good friends from college, Abby Blake, got a call to do American Idol and they wanted her to prepare two songs but said the accompanist would only play one. She said, ‘I feel more comfortable with you in the room.’”

Kayko agreed to go with her. They woke up at 4 a.m. for the Nashville audition and sat in a room all day without ever seeing the judges. The producers asked Blake to come back the next day and Kayko said he would return with her.

“Abby’s voice was shot and she wasn’t feeling well that day and I was thinking I have to break the ice for her, so I was probably talking way more than any accompanist has ever done before. Abby sang her song and got a yes. Katy Perry looks at me and says, ‘There’s something about you. You look like an artist.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not doing this.’ Abby said I should sing for these three music legends. I played an original song and they look at each other and tell me I’m going to Hollywood. What?!”

But Kayko had a huge conflict. “I booked a job in New York playing guitar for a new off-Broadway musical, Hard Road to Heaven, and I had this in place for a year. The guy who got me the gig put his neck on the line for me and now I have to call him and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. Katy Perry just told me that I have a thing and I need to go to Hollywood Week and I could get cut and get no airtime and lose this thing, or it could be great.’ He said, “I would never hold you back from doing something like that.’ So I spent a week and a half in New York and flew directly to L.A. for Hollywood Week. The only reason I went was for that chance for airtime and the potential viral moment and for my friend Abby. She got cut in Hollywood and I’m still here.”

It could have been an awkward situation, but it wasn’t. “Abby and I are real friends and we’re both in the music industry and know that it’s not personal. I didn’t take her spot. My dad always said, ‘If Simon Cowell walked into the bar and you’re playing a lousy gig, are you going to blow him away?’ And it actually happened with Katy Perry.”