Julia Gagnon, of Cumberland, performs during her “American Idol” audition last year, which was seen on Sunday’s episode of the show. Photo courtesy of American Idol and Fremantle

After a successful audition on Sunday night’s “American Idol” episode, Julia Gagnon is on her way to Hollywood.

The Cumberland woman moved judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan with an emotional performance of “Ain’t No Way” by Aretha Franklin at an audition in Nashville, Tennessee. Gagnon, the last person to audition for season 22, made it through to “Hollywood,” the next phase of the competition.

“Did that come out of your mouth? I am shocked,” Lionel Richie said after Gagnon’s performance. “I grew up with Aretha Franklin. There are certain songs you don’t sing because you can’t touch the original. You just made it not only your song, but you did things that are just beyond. That was absolutely outstanding.”

Gagnon appeared to just lose herself in the music while auditioning. And she teared up as soon as the song was over.

“I was in another place,” Gagnon told the Press Herald in an interview after the episode aired. “I just closed my eyes and sang from the heart.”

Richie, Perry and Bryan had sent Gagnon on her way with a standing ovation and high praise. But unlike the nearly 150 competitors who went home with a golden ticket, the judges followed Gagnon into the hall and gave her a coveted “platinum ticket.” The ticket, which the judges only give to three competitors each season, means Gagnon gets to skip the next high-stakes round of the competition.


“Every once in a while, we have someone that comes along that’s just phenomenal,” Richie said.

Julia Gagnon during her “American Idol” audition. Photo courtesy of American Idol and Fremantle

Gagnon, 21, grew up shy and nervous about singing in public while being harassed in school, she told the Press Herald earlier this month. But after performing in a talent show at North Yarmouth Academy, she began coming out of her shell and singing publicly.

Gagnon lives in Maine and is enrolled at the University of Southern Maine, where she is a senior majoring in history and on a pre-law track. But she was inspired to pursue music once again after winning Central Maine Idol, which is modeled after “American Idol” and held at The Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell.

On Sunday night, Gagnon was at a watch party at The Quarry Tap Room, where it all began.

Gagnon knew she was getting through. But she was still anxious as the episode drew to a close, with her audition airing in the final moments.

“There were a lot of nerves, even though I knew how it went,” she said. “You never know how it’s going to feel after it airs. You never know how they’re going to edit you.”


When she got the golden ticket, the crowd of family, friends and fans at The Quarry Tap House roared.

“And then it got even louder once I got the platinum ticket,” she said.

Gagnon dedicated her audition to her birthmother, Sara Ramos, who is seriously ill and fighting an infection. Gagnon was adopted from a Guatemalan orphanage and still lives in Cumberland with her adoptive parents, Meg and Jim Gagnon.

The judges, moved by her story, dedicated their “yeses” to Ramos and Meg Gagnon.

“You’re doing something big, and it’s for Sara,” Perry said. “It’s a yes.”

Gagnon’s also in the competition to represent her home state.


“I want Mainers to know I’m really proud to be from Maine,” she said.

Julia Gagnon at her home in Cumberland in March. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Gagnon now moves on to the next round of “American Idol,” where she will compete against 150 people in a bid to become one of 24 finalists.

In the next episode, which will air on March 31, the other performers will compete in a rapid fire-round. But thanks to her platinum ticket, Gagnon gets to skip that part.

Gagnon’s hoping to make it to the live shows as one of 24 finalists. She’d be flown out to Hawaii, where her fate would then be decided by a public vote each week.

If the judges’ reviews from her audition are anything to go by, Gagnon’s prospects look bright.

“You’ve got several soul singers inside of you,” Perry said. “You could go very far. You could be top 10.”

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