Why American Idol’s Katy Perry called Modesto singer a ‘miracle’ and knows his dad

The audition for Modesto native and American Idol contestant Ryan Hammond aired Monday, March 18, 2019, on ABC.
The audition for Modesto native and American Idol contestant Ryan Hammond aired Monday, March 18, 2019, on ABC. ABC

Modesto singer Ryan Hammond may have wowed the celebrity judges on “American Idol.” But it was his dad who got name dropped by Katy Perry.

The Modesto native’s audition for the hit reality singing competition aired Monday night, and culminated with the 25-year-old singer songwriter being unanimously voted through to the show’s “Hollywood Week” round. Still while the Modesto High graduate received the golden ticket from the judging panel of pop superstar Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, his father Mark Hammond got surprise props as well.

“Is your dad Mark Hammond?” Perry asked when Ryan mentioned before his audition started that he was “raised in the church” in Modesto.

When Ryan confirmed his father was Mark Hammond, the longtime music director and current senior pastor with his wife Nicole at the Celebration Center in Modesto, she responded:

“So, my parents are pastors. And they started a church in Stockton. I think my parents, like, praised the Lord with your parents.”

Ryan’s parents, along with close to a dozen other family and friends, had made the trip down to Los Angeles with him last November. After the episode aired Monday night — actually three hours before it started thanks to East Coast viewers — the Hammonds’ phones started to blow up in Modesto.

“I expected everybody to be talking about Ryan. But everyone is saying how I know Katy Perry’s parents,” said Mark Hammond in a phone interview with The Bee Tuesday after the episode aired. “It was a complete surprise. We all sort of run in the same circles. We’re not great friends, but we’ve surely been at the same place at the same time. We probably don’t even realize all of the connections we have with them, really.”

The family — including Ryan’s two oldest sisters, parents and 73-year-old grandmother — all traveled to see his successful audition, which proved the third time was the charm for the singer. He had unsuccessfully tried out before in 2010 while going to Modesto High still in high school and in 2015 after he won The Valley Talent Project at the Gallo Center for the Arts (then called Valley’s Got Talent).

Like for his Valley Talent Project win, Ryan sand the Sam Smith ballad “Lay Me Down.” His mother, Nicole, said she suggested he sing the song for his “Idol” audition because of how it showcases his range.

Valley's Got Talent grand prize winner Ryan Hammond of Modesto sang a cover of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” (excerpt)

Before he started singing, Ryan told the judges about his dramatic weight loss journey. In the last year he has lost 170 pounds, down from his heaviest weight of 330 pounds. The weight, he said, held him back and made it difficult for him to feel confident in his singing.

“It just created so much insecurity within me. It was affecting my voice and I kept running out of breath. I just felt like I couldn’t do what I was meant to do with my life,” he told the panel.

So in February 2017 he had gastric bypass surgery. But the surgery almost killed him, after a hole was left in his stomach and gastric acid was able to leak into his abdominal cavity. He has another surgery to correct the issue, and been focused on his career ever since.

“You are just an inspiration. That’s a miracle. You’re a miracle. And I’m very excited to hear if you sing like a miracle,” Perry said before he started to sing.

Then, after he had finished singing, she exclaimed, “That’s a gosh darn miracle.”

Fellow judges Richie and Bryan also praised Ryan’s pipes.

“It’s one thing to sing a song like someone. There’s another thing where you take someone else’s song and turn it into your own. And you did that,” Richie said.

Ryan’s mother said he was always singing as a child, and she remembers walking to the community mailbox around the corner and being able to hear him practicing in the house. So could the neighbors.

“He always had a big, big voice.,” she said. “We’re so proud of him. He is so gifted and so talented. We’ve been waiting for the world to be able to see him and watch him shine.”

Ryan will return to “American Idol” for the Hollywood Week round which will air at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, March 24-25, on ABC.

Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs midweek and Sundays. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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