Sarah James performs

Sophia James sings on "American Idol" Sunday from her Long Beach bedroom.

The start of American Idol resembled a large Zoom conference on Sunday, May 3.

Twenty small squares showed singers nervously waiting for Ryan Seacrest to reveal the Top Ten performers. One by one, boxes turned yellow as Idol’s Top Ten names were announced.

Five of the twenty squares were already glowing gold when Seacrest said “Sophia James.” Overcome with emotion, the Long Beach songwriter covered her face with her hands. Her brother and father rushed in to hug her.

“I was in complete and utter shock,” Sophia said. “I was not expecting it in any way!”

The celebrity judges clapped as the 20-year-old took in the news.

“Very good, very good, congratulations,” Lionel Richie said.

“Aw, she did it!” Katy Perry exclaimed as Luke Bryan applauded enthusiastically.

After Seacrest finished listing all 10 names, the judges unexpectedly added an 11th person: Makayla Phillips. All 11 singers then had a chance to perform. This week, contestants’ songs centered on the theme of “home.”

Quarantined in her childhood home, Sophia chose to sing the Beach Boys’ ballad “In My Room.” Appropriately, she played the keyboard and sang the verses within the walls of her own bedroom. Her powerful delivery impressed the judges.

Richie complimented Sophia for “sussing out” her sweet spot and said he loved her delivery “from top to bottom.” Perry called Sophia’s performance “upper echelon” and predicted a career in music. Bryan said she was a wonderful vocalist who caused him to be immersed in emotion.

Sophia loved the positive feedback and said she was especially moved by Bryan’s comment.

“That’s the goal of music,” she said, “to make everyone forget about everyday life and become immersed in the moment.”

Sophia’s “behind the scenes” segment showed her Long Beach roots. The video opened with a shot of her smiling below the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier. At the end of the clip, Sophia strolled along the sand, windblown and radiant, the Long Beach shoreline behind her. It was a lovely illustration of her hometown heritage.

Throughout this journey, Sophia said she has been buoyed by Long Beach encouragement. Local restaurants and politicians have taken to social media to show their pride in the young singer.

“I’m really grateful for all the love I have received from the Long Beach and UCLA communities,” Sophia said. “They have shown such fierce support for me, it brings tears to my eyes every week. I am truly thankful for both communities.”

Sophia also voiced gratitude for her father’s assistance in navigating the technical challenges of creating a performance studio in her bedroom.

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