Ryan Hammond cried walking off the stage after every one of his “American Idol” performances.
It’s not that celebrity judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan were mean about the Modesto native’s singing. In fact, exactly the opposite.
“I did not expect to make it as far as I have. Every single round I walked away in tears because I was in disbelief it was happening,” said the 25-year-old Modesto High graduate in an interview with The Bee this week. “ Every time I made it I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ Because I was not just making it, but getting standing ovations.”
Hammond has made it to the Top 40 finalists this season, selected out of thousands to audition and then making it past the 175 singers who competed during Hollywood Week. He will next appear in the pre-taped Showcase/Final Judgment Round, which airs Sunday night on ABC.
This is the first year the Showcase round will be held on the road, with the contestants traveling to Hawaii to stay and perform at the Aulani Disney Resort & Spa . Hammond and the other singers filmed for a week on the island in January.
He practiced through the week with his show-appointed vocal coach, Adriana McPhee, sister of 2006 Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee. He credits her with helping him come out of his singing shell. He chose to sing “A Song for You” by soul singer Donny Hathaway in Hawaii based on her recommendation.
“There was this moment when coaching in my session where she stopped me and said, ‘Do you understand the gift that you have? Do you actually realize how good you are?’ ” Hammond said. “It brought me to tears. I talked to her little bit about my insecurities with singing. I have only been a church singer, so my confidence wasn’t always there.”
Hammond grew up singing in his family church, his father was the music director when he was growing up, and now his parents are the senior pastors at Celebration Center in south Modesto. The singer’s church roots were a big part of his audition, when Perry — who also grew up singing in her parents’ church — name dropped Hammond’s father, Mark Hammond.
While Perry and Hammond have bonded over their connection singing for their congregations, he said she also pushed him to leave his comfort zone and show off his range and skills. That coupled with his recent weight loss — in the past two years he has shed 170 pounds — have helped to build his confidence as a singer.
“Katy Perry’s words were, ‘When we look at you we see an artist. You look like a pop star. But we hear the church in (your voice) so much,’” he said.
So far, Hammond has sung Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” in the audition round. Then for the multi-stage Hollywood Week round he sang “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato for his line-of-10 performance, “California Dreaming” by the Mamas & the Papas for his group performance, and “All I Ask” by Adele for his solo song.
Only his solo performance made the air during Hollywood Week, but Hammond said he was proud to have received a standing ovation from the judges and crowd after each song.
Hammond said he’s in awe of how much happens behind the scenes. The contestants and crew are subject to 14- to 16-hour days sometimes, filming the whole time.
“There are definitely moments where it is grueling and hard. There are other moments where it’s the coolest thing. To get to stand on those stages that so many people dream of getting on,” Hammond said. “The whole thing has been a lot of firsts and just really cool.”
Plus, there’s that all-expenses paid, eight-day trip to Hawaii. The Showcase round has all the singers perform solo on stage backed by a live band in front of a live audience.
The results of all the pre-taped rounds are strictly under wraps. Hammond first auditioned in Los Angeles last November. The Hollywood Week rounds were filmed in December, and the Hawaii trip was in January. Between rounds, the contestants, including Hammond, have returned home. He’s been working at his job at a Modesto real estate company.
After the Showcase/Final Judgment round on Sunday, the field will be cut in half, to 20 contestants. By April 14, the live voting rounds will begin with the show’s Top 14.
Area audiences were already wowed by Hammond during his grand-prize winning performance on the Valley Talent Project in 2015. That year, he also won the statewide California Idol singing competition. He auditioned for “American Idol” that year, his second audition after trying unsuccessfully to make the show while in high school.
While on “Idol” so far, he has also made friends with fellow contestants like the bubbly Los Angeles singer Margie Mays and Nebraska native Nick Townsend. In fact, Mays and Townsend will join Hammond and last year’s “American Idol” finalist and fellow Modesto native Effie Passero to perform together in Modesto after the season ends in May.