By John Balch
The roller coaster ride that began more than six months ago for a young blues musician and his family ended last week.
Ethan Kuntz, 16, did not advance in last week’s round of “American Idol,” but the youngster said he is far from being done doing what he loves.
“It was a great experience and I never dreamed that audition would take me to Hollywood,” Kuntz said last week after the latest episode of the television talent show revealed he would not advance. “Even though I didn’t make it passed Round 1, I’m still a musician and will continue this path God has given me.”
Kuntz, the son of Damon and Michale Kuntz, said the recognition and experience gained from the entire “American Idol” process, which began back on Aug. 8, 2015, has already created opportunities for the young musician, who is a card-carrying member of the Hot Springs Blues Society.
“Doors are opening for me and for the Spa City Youngbloods,” he said about the blues band he fronts as lead singer and lead guitarist. “Right now, I’m just gonna have fun and play music.”
Kuntz, who goes by the nickname ‘Lil’ Skinny,” had not intended on auditioning for “American Idol” over the summer and he seemed more intent on winning the Hope Watermelon Festival Talent Show’s top prize of $300 so he could buy himself a flat-bottom boat. His logic was if he did not win at Hope, he would take a shot at “American Idol,” which was holding open auditions in Little Rock.
“So, at 2:30 a.m he was waking me up to go!” said Michale.
The day was long and after staying in line all day waiting, Ethan got his shot at 3 p.m. The audition began with a series of tables and he moved through the process after getting a stamp of approval from past “American Idol” winner and Arkansas native, Chris Allen.
Allen’s approval “started this roller coaster we have been on for six months,” Michale said.
There were many more auditions passed until one day in September he landed in front of the show’s celebrity judges, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. Footage from the audition, as well as an interview and local footage shot at the family’s hunting dog kennels, made the final cut for an episode that aired in January. With a split vote between Lopez and Connick, Urban cast the deciding vote to give him a “Golden Ticket and send Ethan to Hollywood, Calif.
“He was treated liked a superstar from the time we landed at LAX (the Los Angeles airport),” Michale said. “The cameras were there waiting for him to get off the plane.”
In addition to performing again, Ethan and his family, which includes little brother, Joshua, spent four days touring Beverly Hill, Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood Boulevard and “getting to know the other contestants.”
“It was an incredible trip,” Ethan said.
Since all the shows were prerecorded, the Kuntz family had to watch along with millions of other viewers last week to see if Ethan made it passed Round 1. No footage aired of Ethan’s performance last week and the only time he appeared on the screen was as he headed down a long hallway with his guitar and suitcase in hand. The family knew then the roller coaster ride was slowing.
“One of our friends said this isn’t Ethan leaving Hollywood, it’s him just starting,” Michale said of the departure scene that aired on last week’s episode.
“It’s been a blast,” Michale added, “Ethan has a lot of people interested in him since this has happened. So, we will see where it leads us.”
Ethan and the Spa City Youngbloods just returned from a weekend gig at Memphis’ Club 152 and he is lined up as a special guest at this year’s Scrapper Showdown on Saturday, Feb. 6. There is also a special fundraiser set for Saturday, Feb. 20 at Black Pearl in Mineral Springs, which hosted the family’s two “American Idol” watch parties. Tickets to the event will be $25 and will include a smoked chicken meal and the money raised will help keep the young man’s musical dreams alive.
“This is a fundraiser to help keep my band on the road playing gigs,” according to Ethan.