Montgomery's Lady K takes on Disney spirit of Moana for Sunday's American Idol

By Kezia Moss

Shannon Heupel
Montgomery Advertiser
There's no telling how far Montgomery native Lady K will go, but we'll all find out a bit more Sunday on American Idol.

That night during a live episode at 7 p.m. on ABC, she'll perform a Disney song from a character that has a personal connection to her.

"I'm going to do 'Moana How Far I'll Go,' " she said Thursday in a call from Los Angeles. "In the story, (Moana) talks about stepping away from her village to go out and take on a journey across this huge ocean. It's so risky, and her family didn't want her to do it. But she knew if she did it, it could have great benefit for her, her family and her entire village. She knew it was necessary. It needed to be done."

There's a reason Lady K identifies with Moana, which happens to be her favorite Disney character. She said her personal ocean is the stage and the music that flows from it. Her village is her family and friends back in Montgomery and where she lives in Tuskegee. 

"It's my story," Lady K said. "I literally watched that movie two days before I auditioned for Idol. I knew instantly that I wanted to be that girl... I took the risk and jumped out there, and now I'm doing what I've wanted to do."

Disney has also released songs to come from the rest of Idol's Top 10 on Sunday: Christian Guardino – “Circle of Life” from The Lion King; Emyrson Flora – “Carried Me with You” from Onward; Fritz Hager – “Go the Distance” from Hercules; HunterGirl – “I See the Light” from Tangled; Jay Copeland – “Remember Me” from Coco; Leah Marlene – “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2; Mike Parker – “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan; Nicolina Bozzo – “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid; Noah Thompson – “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story.

They aren't safe Sunday. The live episode will again use instant voting, and more people will be cut that night, Lady K said. 

Montgomery native Lady K, bottom right, and the rest of American Idol's Top 10 put on their Disney headgear after Monday's live episode.

Voting will take place using the American Idol app, online at, and by texting the contestant number to 21523. Each method allows a person 10 votes — a total of 30. 

One big change starting Sunday is that Lady K will have a new contestant number to text in for voting. As of Thursday, she didn't know what that new number would be.

Along with urging people to vote Sunday, Lady K also encouraged them to follow their own dreams. 

"I definitely want to encourage them to step out of their element and not be fearful because their dream seems bigger than them," Lady K said. "That's the dream that you need to pursue."

Lady K earns a Disney adventure 

Montgomery native Lady K at Disneyland with four of this season's fellow American Idol contestants, from left, Mike Parker, Noah Thompson, Christian Guardino and Fritz Hager.

While there have been a lot of incredible opportunities for Lady K with American Idol so far on Season 20, this week she fulfilled a dream she's had all her life — a chance to play in Disneyland.

"It was amazing," Lady K said.

Even better: It's an adventure earned by her music. 

"I had the most fun I've probably ever had in my life," she said of going through Disneyland. "I was a kid. A huge kid. The cast and the crew didn't see me until it was time to go home."

No waiting in line, either.

"We had VIP access and a personal tour guide," Lady K said. "My first time ever going through that was a dream experience... I got on some of the craziest rides that I've ever experienced."

Back from the brink of elimination

From left, Lady K, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, and Tristen Gressett during Monday's episode. Lady K and Gressett were in the bottom two after live voting, and were awaiting their fate. Judges picked Lady K to move forward into the top 10.

What makes the Disney episode sort of bittersweet is it could easily have been denied her.

On Monday's show, a judge's contest where they picked the songs for everyone, Lady K and fellow Alabamian Tristen Gressett of Pell City ended the night in the bottom two after live voting.

For a moment, neither knew the judges had a lifeline for one of them. 

"I was like, well, this is it. Time to go," Lady K said. "It was very bittersweet. In that instant, I was thinking what's next? What am I fixin' to do? Wow, it's really come down to this. Not only did it come down to two Alabama people having to fight for a spot, but I might be going home as one of them. It was nerve wracking. You talk about pins and needles. My feet were already on pins and needles because of my shoes. Now I've got adrenaline and anxiety rushing through them too."

When a moment passed and judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan announced Lady K was being saved, all that was replaced by motivation and hunger. 

"It amplified it," she said.

What's daily life like in Los Angeles with American Idol?

These days, Lady K always has something to do in Los Angeles — COVID testing, vocal rehearsals, dress rehearsals, being fitted for clothes for each episode, putting together "a look."

"We get our breakfast and lunch. They make sure we're hydrated and fed," she said. "Outside of that, it's work all around the clock. If we're not doing that, we're doing interviews with the press, more show rehearsals. We're making sure, since we're live, that the show can be as fluid as possible, and structured. It's a lot."

Performing live vs recorded

Does it make a big difference when Lady K sings live on TV, instead of having the performances recorded like they were early in the season?

Yes, but not for the reasons you might expect. Performance wise, the pressure is the same, prerecorded or live, she said. 

"When it's live, you've just got to take the punches and go with the flow," Lady K said.

Early on, Lady K was watching prerecorded episodes with the fans, and then she'd immediately get on social media with them to discuss everything that happened. She'd also coach them through the overnight voting process. Now that the episodes are live and the voting takes place during the show, that's not an option. 

"We're live on TV, and can't have phones," Lady K said. "Of course, we can't be live while on TV, going live on Facebook. It's kind of hard to keep my normal routine, and the rapport that I've built with my fans going."

Sunday watch parties 

Fans will be gathering in person in homes across the nation to watch Sunday, and in at least a couple of big public watch parties in Montgomery. 

Sunday evening, the city of Montgomery's Department of Cultural Affairs will present and American Idol Watch Party at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl, 220 Hall St. This is free to attend. No tickets required. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the party lasts through the two-hour episode. There will be free hotdogs, drinks and popcorn. 

A separate watch party has been announced at Hookah House, 105 N. Burbank Drive, Montgomery. Doors open at 6 p.m. Text to 334-201-8664 for section reservations. 

More reunion on Idol coming Monday

Throughout the season, some of Idol's previous contestants have come back to mentor the singers for season 20. There's much more to come. Monday's episode is being billed as "The Great Idol Reunion." According to ABC, it will include guests like Ruben Studdard, Scotty McCreery, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Lauren Alaina, Kris Allen, Maddie Poppe, Laine Hardy, Willie Spence, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Grace Kinstler, Laci Kaye Booth, and more. The episode will air at 7 p.m. 

New fan base affecting Lady K's EP

Earlier in the season, Lady K released her new EP "Time of your Life." Since then, it's been picking up steam. 

"I'm seeing my music streaming in new cities that I didn't see before," she said. 

Which is fortunate, since because of Idol obligations, she hasn't been able to get out and promote the EP. 

"I'm gaining fans from new places, so I love it," Lady K said. "I might do the 'Time of your Life' tour one day."

Follow her online at

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Alabama’s Lady K dedicates ‘American Idol’ audition to brother who died by suicide

By Kezia Moss


Kezia "Lady K" Istonia

Alabama's Kezia "Lady K" Istonia auditioned for "American Idol" in Season 20. She's a singer, songwriter and aspiring actress from Montgomery. (ABC/Eric McCandless)


Alabama singers are reaching out to grab the judges’ hearts on “American Idol” this season.

Tyler N. Allen of Mobile did it on a recent episode, performing a tune he used to sing to his 1-year-old nephew, who died in a car crash. All three judges were moved by Allen’s audition -- Katy Perry wept as he sang a tender version of “I Believe in You and Me” -- and they were unanimous in their decision to send him to the next phase of the competition.

On Sunday’s episode, another contestant from our state, Kezia “Lady K” Istonia of Montgomery, revealed a personal tragedy. During her audition, Lady K, 25, told the judges about tough times her family had experienced -- her mother struggled to support five children and they ended up living in a shelter -- and she mourned her brother’s death.

“I knew that we all had it hard, but at some point, it was all just too much for my brother,” Lady K said. “My brother died by suicide and that was one of the hardest things that my family ever had to go through. It was hard to decide if paying rent was going to come first, because we needed somewhere to live, or paying for a funeral because we don’t have our brother anymore.”

Lady K -- who now lives in Tuskegee, the hometown of judge Lionel Richie -- talked about her desire to help her family and give them hope for the future.“There were times where I didn’t think that the rest of my family would pull through, and we’re still here -- the rest of us are, anyway -- and that’s why this is so important to me,” she said. “Because I don’t want that to happen again, because it gets so hard that they feel like there’s no hope. So Poppy’s death, it started a fire in me. It gave me more purpose, like, I know I don’t want my mom to have to only think about this. I don’t want that to be the only significant thing in our life. So I’m here to honor him and just make my family proud, give us something to be excited about after everything we’ve been through. ... It’s a blessing to be here, honestly.

Lady K told the “Idol” judges she chose one of Perry’s songs, “Wide Awake,” for her audition, because “it was the best song I could find to symbolize my journey.”

Her rendition of the song clearly impressed the judges, who offered effusive praise and presented Lady K with a golden ticket to Hollywood.

“You sang with such elegance, beauty, grace and filigree,” Perry said. “It’s like you reinvented the song. It’s like your heart is shining through your vocal cords.”

“It just flows and it’s tremendous,” Luke Bryan said. “And it’s so honest. It is just magic.”

“I’m so proud,” Richie said. “Tuskegee will never be the same. I just know that you landed there for an absolute purpose. Listen, you sang a Katy Perry song and turned it into you. I mean, and then you had Katy Perry crying. I mean, what are you doing? .. Lady K, you’ve made my day.”

As she displayed her golden ticket, Lady K dedicated her successful audition to her brother’s memory.

“Holding this golden ticket right now means that my brother is not gone in vain,” Lady K said. “He is so proud of me. This was for Poppy.”

Lady K will continue her journey on the ABC reality series, competing in the Hollywood Round. It’s a fast-moving and typically grueling phase of the competition, significantly trimming the number of singers. Viewers will have to wait for that, however.

Audition episodes are set to air for the next few weeks, and two more singers from Alabama -- Cadence Baker of the Shoals and Tristen Gressett of Pell City -- will be featured among the hopefuls. (Early episodes of “American Idol” are filmed in advance.)

If you watch: “American Idol” airs on Sundays at 7 p.m. CT on ABC.

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Montgomery's Lady K's golden ticket performance leaves American Idol judges 'Wide Awake'

By Kezia Moss

Shannon Heupel
Montgomery Advertiser
Montgomery's Lady K with her American Idol golden ticket from Sunday's audition episode.

Montgomery singer Kezia "Lady K" Istonia was bound for either Hollywood or "Hollyhood" when she finally made it in front of American Idol's judges to close out Sunday's two-hour audition episode on ABC.

After a night full of huge performances, and a few near misses, it was worth the wait. Lady K walked away with a golden ticket to Idol's Hollywood rounds.

Lady K started her segment off with something unique. She handed cards to celebrity judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, and said they weren't allowed to read until after she was done. Then Lady K blew them away by singing her own take on Perry's "Wide Awake."

"That just naturally made the experience more intense, because you never know which direction it can be taken," said Lady K, who spoke to the Montgomery Advertiser prior to Sunday's episode.

Lady K said Perry's songs speak to underdogs like herself.

"You sang with such elegance, beauty, grace, filigree. It's like you reinvented the song," Perry told Lady K. "It's like your heart is shining through your vocal cords." 

Bryan said Lady K's voice is tremendous and honest. "It's just magic," he said.

"Lady K, you've made my day," said Richie. 

Montgomery singer Lady K stands in front of the judges with personalized cards for them on Sunday's episode of American Idol.

Outside of the audition, Lady K has another connection to Richie. Though she's a Montgomery native, Lady K lives in Richie's hometown of Tuskegee, and said she frequently walks past the Commodores studio where he and the band would rehearse and record. 

"Right before I went to my audition, I took a picture in front of it for good luck," Lady K said.

After getting a hug from Richie, Lady K said it felt like she'd known him her whole life. 

"I know you have, because there's only five people in Tuskegee," Richie joked. 

Once she left the room, the judges read Lady K's cards, which were full of praise for each of them. 

"Thanks for remind me I'm a firework," Perry said, reading Lady K's message. 

"i felt more comfortable once I found my way to relate to each of the judges," Lady K said. "I felt like that helped me balance out the intensity of the moment."

Lady K grew up in music and struggle

Montgomery singer Lady K appeared on ABC's American Idol season 20 auditions on Sunday, March 6. 2022.

Lady K and her four younger siblings were raised by a single mother. At one time, they lived in a shelter. In the midst of family struggles, Lady K lost a brother to suicide. 

But through all the pain and heartache, there was music. It's something Lady K had always had.

"My momma said that before I could talk, I was singing," Lady K said. 

She's been performing since she was five, and started recording at eight.

"I've been writing music from that young as well," Lady K said. 

Growing up, Lady K often sang in talent shows and school competitions. As she developed her skills, she was often featured on other artists' projects, before coming out as a solo artist. 

Along the way, she's absorbed the flavor of Montgomery's music scene and forged it into her own sound.

"I've been able to stay relevant and learn the motions and the technical side to it," Lady K said. "I'm influenced by a lot, but it's still my own original take on what I've learned from everybody." 

Someone she's worked closely with is Montgomery producer Noah Baker, who praised her talents in both singing and rap. 

Lady K sings at A Touch of Soul Cafe in Montgomery on Friday, March 31, 2017, in downtown Montgomery.

"I met her in 2014 when we connected on our collaboration project ''My City,' and instantly, I knew she were a natural born star," Baker said. "Over the years everything she touch becomes a hit record."

She has three albums so far, "Letter from Lady K," "Unfinished Love Story" and "K." Her latest single is "Guard Down," which she released Dec. 15. 

Lady K said she defines her style as "undefined." She's definitely known around Montgomery for R&B, but that's not what she necessarily wants to be known for in the competition. She's reaching for what feels right and relevant to audiences, she said.

"I don't want to be defined as one genre or one style," she said. "Music is ever evolving."

She's in good Alabama company

Having a little foresight into the competition couldn't hurt. Lady K said she's friends with season 12 finalist Kevin Khule Harris of Montgomery.

"He has been very supportive and motivating throughout the journey," Lady K said. "Kind of preparing me for what to expect, even though a lot has changed between my season and his. It's still good having a heads up from a friend who already went through it."

Montgomery singer Lady K will audition before the celebrity judges on Sunday, March 6, in the second episode of the 20th season of "American Idol."

She's not the first Alabamian to get a golden ticket for season 20. Tyler N. Allen of Mobile earned one last week.

"I'll never forget this moment, never as long as I live," Allen said in an ABC interview. Allen dedicated his audition to his late nephew and the child's mother, who died in a car accident.

There are at least two others from Alabama announced to be on American Idol this season, Candice Baker of Muscle Shoals and Tristen Gressett of Pell City. 

Along with Lady K and Harris, several other Alabamians have made it onto American Idol through the years, including Ruben Studdard (season 2), Bo Bice (season 4), Taylor Hicks (season 5), Jessica Meuse, Dexter Roberts and C.J. Harris (all season 13), and Samuel Swanson (season 16). 

Fans got Lady K onto American Idol

"The biggest thing I could tell my fans is thank you for the continued support," Lady K said. 

She held a watch party for Sunday's episode, with special fan guests. In a social media contest, she asked fans to tag her biggest fans. Three of them were picked from a drawing to watch the episode with her.

"It's a moment I wanted to give back to my fans, since they've been so supportive to me throughout the journey," Lady K said. 

After all, her fans are the reason she auditioned for American Idol to begin with. 

"I had no intentions on it. I had no idea Idol was having open auditions," Lady K said. "I was on a short social media break, or hiatus. When I got back on, I had these tags from everybody saying, hey, American Idol is auditioning. You need to sign up."

She saw their messages as a sign that she needed to give it a try. She auditioned with a video of her singing Beyoncé's song "Love On Top."

"It's a genuine moment for me and my fans, because they were there with me from the sign up moment," Lady K said. "That's a big intimate bonding moment for me and my fans." 

That bond could help make a difference if Istonia survives the Hollywood rounds and makes it into public voting, she said.

"I hope that going forward, I could shed more light on Montgomery, Alabama, as a place where people can seek talent," Lady K said. "There's so much undiscovered talent here. I was that undiscovered talent for years."

Follow her online at


Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel at



Read more - Meet Kezia Istonia from American Idol Season 20

By Kezia Moss

Full Interview - Idol Chatter

Meet Kezia Istonia from American Idol Season 20



Kezia Istonia from American Idol Season 20

Kezia Istonia from American Idol Season 20

Kezia Istonia is among the artists who auditioned for Season 20 of American Idol.


Idol returns to ABC on Sunday, Feb. 27. Here’s more about Kezia.

* She’s a singer, songwriter and aspiring actress from Montgomery, Alabama, who goes by the stage name Lady K.

* She’s already released a trio of R&B albums, “Letter from Lady K” in 2015, “Unfinished Love Story” in 2018 and an eight-song project simply titled “K” in 2020.

* She released her latest single, “Guard Down,” on Dec. 15, and there’s a music video too, featuring Kezia Istonia. Check out the video below to see why Kezia used both names on the project.

* The song is about finding a man she can trust to the point where she can leave her “Guard Down” and show’s off Lady K’s singing and rapping ability.

* Her music was streamed 16,400 times in 2021, according to Spotify. Kezia says she’s hoping those numbers are 100 times higher by the end of 2022.

* Kezia announced her Idol audition at the end of 2021 with this message: “This year 5 journey has been nothing short of festive, adventurous, & AWAKENING The biggest thing ever happened to me this year & I AUDITIONED FOR AMERICAN IDOL.”

* Kezia also posted her virtual audition — the one that determined whether she would be selected to sing in front of the judges — to Instagram. You can check that out here.


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Watch out Montgomery, the South has a new diva in town and she goes by the name of Lady K

By Kezia Moss

Watch out Montgomery the South has a new diva in town and she goes by the name of Lady K. The vocals on this chick is unheard of and simply blew me away.

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