At 13 years old, Ethan Payne was granted one wish, to meet Luke Bryan. Now, Payne will be reuniting with Bryan in a big way on the set of American Idol.
The Forsyth teen has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that impacts the lungs. The Make-A-Wish Foundation gave him the chance to meet his idol Bryan in 2016.
“He saw me in the meet and greet and saw I had a guitar,” Ethan said. “I played one of his songs and he said I did it perfectly. He told me, ‘We need to do something about this.’”
And they did. Bryan invited Ethan on stage to perform alongside him that night at the Dallas Cowboys stadium. In one night, Ethan went from playing to about 50 people around the Middle Georgia area at local restaurants and venues to 50,000 screaming fans in Texas.
Since then Ethan has continued to pursue his dream to break through in the music business while attending Mary Persons High School. He has played at more of those local places like Wild Wing Cafe, the site of one of his favorite memories in music.
“That is the biggest show I do every month. We pack it out,” he said. “I know the last time I was there, the fire department shut us down because there were so many people in there. That was something cool to put down in the book.”
Now he will be singing to an audience of millions on American Idol, a singing competition where Bryan serves as one of the judges alongside Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. Yet Ethan doesn’t let the pressure of singing in front of those stars get to him.
“You know I get the question a lot ‘how are you not nervous?’. It is something I love to do,” he said. “If you love to do something, you shouldn’t be nervous.”
The singer doesn’t lack confidence, an attribute he believes every contestant must possess in order to go further in the competition.
“You want to stand your ground as soon as you walk and let them know ‘I am here to win this thing,’” he said.
Some of that comes from battling cystic fibrosis and it has given him the attitude to stand and fight for his dreams. He also has to battle those who say he can’t make it in music because of the ailment.
“People just say ‘you’re not going anywhere with your music, you’re going to be stuck in your hometown like everyone else,’” Ethan said. “People telling me that makes me want to do it more just to prove them wrong.”
While he may have some that don’t believe in him, he has a lot of support from his family, friends and teachers like DJ Hurm, his building construction teacher at Mary Persons. The pair bonded over their love of music.
“When I was his age I had some of the same aspirations of working in music,” Hurm said. “He has an energy about him that I think is exceptional.”
Viewers will have the chance to see that energy on display when Payne debuts on American Idol on Wednesday at 8 p.m.