The usually stoic Luke Bryan had some words of empathy and encouragement for one contestant on American Idol as he tearfully shared is own story of loss and perseverance.

American Idol” kicked off its 17th year on the air on Sunday with judges Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan along with a slew of performers taking a shot at a golden ticket to compete in Los Angeles. While many contestant’s personal stories move or amuse the judges, singer and guitarist Nick Townsend’s story brought the table to tears as he recounted the dual tragedies his family has been through that led to him trying out for the show.

Townsend recounts a happy childhood growing up with his older and younger brothers, Zachary and Matthew. But in January 2018, his dad called to tell him his older brother Zachary, who was in the Air Force, had committed suicide.

Nick goes on to explain that after his older brother died, he took an opportunity to teach and perform in Japan. But not long after getting there, he received another call, this time to hear the devastating news that his younger brother, Matthew, had also taken his own life.

Taking the blame

“It made me feel selfish because I left my little brother… all I can think about is he needed me and I left him,” Nick said through tears.

“There have definitely been times that I’ve just wanted to give up, but I know my brothers would want me to keep pursuing my dream and be really proud that I’m here.”

Following Nick’s impressive performance of James Bay’s “Let It Go”, Nick received praise from Lionel Ritchie and Katy Perry. But it was country star Luke Bryan who choked back tears as he expressed his sympathy for the Townsend family’s recent sorrows.

Luke Bryan gets real

“I haven’t brought this up on this show because I haven’t had to, but I’ve lost both my siblings,” Bryan told Nick.

“I just applaud you for keeping a positive attitude and continuing to fight, and for trying to be a light for your parents too,” Luke continued.

Luke’s brother died in a car accident when he was 19 and heading to Nashville to pursue his music dreams. His sister later died at home from unknown causes. When her husband also passed away, Luke Bryan and his wife, who have two sons together, took over raising their nephew and helping take care of their two nieces.

Bryan’s example of overcoming personal heartbreak and using it as a motivator is a fantastic message for anyone, and especially for Nick Townsend, who is still dealing with very new pain and processing how to live on without his brothers.

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