Gwinnett County

Gwinnett County man with autism earns standing ovation from ‘American Idol’ judges

PEACHTREE CORNERS, Ga. — A Gwinnett County man is heading to Hollywood!

Sam Finelli, 28, was the last person to audition in Sunday night’s episode of “American Idol” on Channel 2.

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In his introduction before the Peachtree Corners bakery worker’s audition, Finelli’s mother confirmed that he has been diagnosed with autism, but is high-functioning.

“It’s just a small part of who I am. It’s not all of who I am,” Finelli told the cameras.


Finelli’s story alone had judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan on the verge tears before he even began singing.

When Finelli began performing Kacey Musgrave’s “Rainbow,” the three judges couldn’t hold back their amazement.

All three gave Finelli a standing ovation when he finished singing and emphatically passed him through to the next round.

Channel 2′s Heather Catlin spoke with Finelli about Sunday’s episode. He said it took him a long time to even decide to audition for “American Idol.” When he finally did, he kept it a secret.

“I kind of held it to myself. Kind of waited, waited, then slowly started telling people,” he told Catlin.

Finelli said it was a dream come true to audition and the judges were happy he is following those dreams.

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Finelli joins former Miss Georgia and Miss America Betty Cantrell Maxwell as the Georgians moving onto Hollywood Week.

“American Idol” auditions continue Sunday nights on Channel 2.