MONROE — Benson Boone didn’t know he could sing until he was a junior in high school.
Now he’s 18 and on stage in front of Katy Perry.
What’s up with that?
Boone is in the opening rounds of Sunday’s season premiere of “American Idol.” The episode was recorded several months ago and airs at 8 p.m. on ABC.
He can’t say what happens at the mercy of judging trio Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. He either gets the boot or moves on to the next round.
“It’s been hard for me not to tell the world,” said Boone, a 2020 graduate of Monroe High School, where as a senior he took sixth place in the state as a diver. He was in a 2017 Herald story about his family’s volunteer service.
He appears in promos for “American Idol,” which last year was Sunday’s No. 1 broadcast show among ages 18-49.
This is the 19th season of the series, which kicked off in 2002 with Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell as judges and launched pop idols such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken and Gabby Barrett.
Contestants must be ages 15 to 29 to audition, with many singing since childhood. Boone started by chance, when a buddy recruited him to play piano in “Battle of the Bands” in the spring of 2019.
“We didn’t have a singer and my friend said I should sing and I was like, ‘Dude, I never sang before,’” Boone said.
They practiced a few times before the school show.
“We thought we could make it work,” he said. “When we got to the competition, something in my voice just clicked and I actually sang for the first time in my life and it felt amazing, seeing people cheering.”
His mom, Kerry, remembers it well.
“My husband and I hadn’t heard him sing ever really. He told us he was going to do it and we were like, ‘Oh, OK, alright, this should be interesting,’” she said. “When we went, our jaws dropped.”
After that, he kept singing.
Boone, the middle child of five and the only boy, attended Brigham Young University-Idaho last fall. He’s taking this semester off to sing. He doesn’t take voice lessons, he takes videos. Social media is his audience.
Boone has 1.2 million followers on TikTok.
Before “American Idol,” that platform gained him some recognition. “At an amusement park in Idaho there were people asking to take pictures of me. But it’s 13-year-old girls,” he said.
The TV show wasn’t even on Boone’s watch list until a few years ago.
“When I was a kid I could never sit still to watch anything. I was always too hyper and would always be out doing something,” he said.
His mom said a teacher once described him as being “his own weather system as he moves from room to room. You can feel that energy.”
His friends encouraged him to try out for “American Idol,” and he advanced to open call auditions on Zoom.
“It was incredibly nerve-wracking,” he said.
He was selected for the celebrity judge round at the California studio on Sunday’s show. He took his mom with him.
What to wear was the hard part.
“Ever since I was a kid, I change five times a day. I can never settle on an outfit,” he said. “I ended up picking the worst outfit ever.”
Most of his wardrobe has logos, which are discouraged on the show. He wore a plain T-shirt, black jeans, white socks and slip-on canvas shoes, a good look for a strapping guy with tousled locks.
Boone played piano and sang “Punchline” by Aidan Martin and a Lewis Capaldi song.
Katy Perry was his favorite judge.
“I do admit I do have a bit of a crush on her,” he said.
Somehow, he managed to stay focused.
“It almost feels they’re holograms. It doesn’t feel real to be in front of them. They are some of the biggest names in the singing industry,” he said.
“They don’t mean to be intimidating but they are, just because of who they are. It’s so scary, but it’s so cool. If they don’t like you, they don’t like you.”
They must have liked him if they let him do two songs.
He faces keen competition during the “American Idol” season.
The network has not released an official list, but online buzz includes a contender in Cheryl K, who sings the opening song to the film “Crazy Rich Asians.” Another is Claudia Conway, the daughter of former presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway. She was involved in a bit of a scandal after her nude photos were leaked through her mother’s Twitter account.
A blogger wrote about Boone: “The pop singer has a nice rasp to his voice … He seems to have a likable personality.”