Earlier this season on American Idol, a plucky and adorable redhead by the stage name Sara Beth tried out for the show, which Katy Perry characterized as “a comic strip character come to life.” The judges were so taken with Katy’s baby-faced appearance — they assumed she was a high school kid, not a 25-year-old mother of three — that she mock-fainted, prompting an amused Sara Beth to say, “If Katy lays on the table, I think I’m going to pass out!”

Without missing a step, Katy remarked, “Honey, you’ve been lying on the table too much!”

Viewers slammed Katy’s remark as slut-shaming or mom-shaming, and while Sara Beth initially seemed to laugh it off and happily accepted her Golden Ticket to Hollywood, she later took to TikTok to call out the center judge for the “hurtful” remark, saying: “Katy Perry made a joke that wasn’t super-kind. It was humiliating to see that on TV. I believe mom-shaming is ridiculous.”

When Sara Beth returned to Idol Season 21 for the first round of Hollywood Week on Sunday, she abruptly left the show — despite performing an “infectiously lovely” rendition of the Police’s “Roxanne” that Sara herself said “went a lot better than I thought it would,” and despite Katy pleading with her to stay.

On the other hand, Sara Beth didn’t blame Katy’s crude “table” remark for her early exit, instead telling the judges, “This opportunity is really rad, but this is actually going to be my last performance because my heart’s at home.” So I’m heading home to my kids. They could use my help.”

To be honest, Sara Beth’s emotions had never seemed to be fully invested in winning Idol. She’d only been semi-seriously pursuing music for six months at the time of her audition, with her prior experience mostly confined to karaoke evenings with her gal pals. Katy suspected that Sara Beth’s true passion was not singing and that she lacked the same hunger as other Idol competitors, dubbing Sara a “accidental American Idol” and a “hidden gem.” During the New Orleans tryouts, Lionel Richie even turned down Sara Beth. Sara appeared more ambivalent than ever in Hollywood, admitting, “A big part of me feels like I’m not cut out for show business.”

“I don’t even know what show business is,” Sara Beth said. “I’ve been a mom since I was 18. I’ve been married since I was 18. … I don’t think I realized quite how hard it would be to be away from my kids. They’re all still really young. … There is a lot of guilt when you leave your kids to do something completely selfish.” She also told a producer backstage, who seemed to be trying to talk her out of her decision, “I feel like I’m not gonna win the show anyway, so I might as well go home.”

Sara Beth on American Idol

Sara Beth


“What just happened? She’s gonna leave? What just happened?” Lionel gasped incredulously, after Sara Beth announced her resignation.

“That was a mistake,” said a disappointed Luke Bryan.

But the judges, especially Katy, were not about to let Sara Beth go so easily. They called Sara back to the platform and pleaded with her to reconsider, with Katy encouraging her: “I know life is scary. I also understand that it is simpler to walk away than it is to be rejected. But I also know that you are not reaching your maximum potential. As a mother, I know you adore your family and children. But self-love is just as important as maternal affection. “Do not abandon the competition.”

The judges then disclosed that they intended to advance Sara Beth to the second round of Hollywood Week based on the strength of her “Roxanne” performance. “You walked through a door you never thought you’d walk through, and you got a yes.” And you might get another yes later on. “Don’t give up,” Katy said again.

This seemed like the setup for a classic Idol story arc, a triumph-over-adversity tale that would conclude with Sara Beth facing her fears and staying in the game. However, while Sara “appreciated” Katy’s words this time, Katy’s words did not change her opinion.

“I’m really humbled and grateful, and Katy had some really nice things to say. It would be nice if my kids were a little older. I understand how big of an opportunity this is,” Sara Beth shrugged, leaving the Orpheum Theatre stage for the second and apparently final time. “But I still kind of want to get home. I am sure when I get home, I will regret it and be like, ‘Man, you should have stayed.’”

It’s a shame Sara Beth dropped out of the competition when there were so many other contestants who would have loved to stay in Hollywood but had no option. Lyric Medeiros (daughter of ’80s adult-contemporary star Glenn Medeiros), who was still too cutesy despite Katy’s attempts to “smack all that out of her,” and McKayla Stacey (daughter of Season 6 Idol finalist Phil Stacey), who enjoyed a sweet reunion with another guest mentor, Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks, but hadn’t quite matured enough to move on.

Platinum Ticket holders Tyson Venegas, Kaylin Hedges, Cam Amen, and Elijah McCormick — who were exempt Sunday, instead watching round one from the luxury and distance of their Statler & Waldorf-style balcony seats — will rejoin the competition on Monday. Of course, there will be plenty of drama this season because the contestants must choose their own partners for the round two duets task.

Meanwhile, Sara Beth will be at home with her three children, possibly wondering what could have been… but ideally without regret.