On a summer day in Florida, Kaibrienne Richins found herself knocking on a stranger’s door.

It wasn’t the first time she’d done this. She’d flown out from the small town of Henefer, Utah (population under 1,000), to do door-to-door sales for security, and she’d become accustomed to knocking on doors — and getting them slammed in her face.

In a scenario that had played out several times before, the man who opened the door rejected her sales pitch. But he didn’t slam the door in her face. Instead, Richins said, this stranger proceeded to read her like a book.

“I feel like this isn’t what you were sent here to do,” Richins recalled the man telling her.

And in that moment, Richins opened up. She told him how she wanted to be a singer but didn’t think it was possible because of severe performance anxiety — the kind that made her entire body go numb, her vocal cords tighten and her mouth go dry.

“God wouldn’t have given you that gift if there weren’t ways to work through it,” Richins recalled him saying.

“And that just really touched me,” she said. “I didn’t even knock another door after that.”

Richins returned home with a renewed sense of purpose. She started turning toward what she had been avoiding. She began to learn guitar, write music, sing out and share her voice on social media. And over time, it gained some traction — enough to catch the eye of an “American Idol” casting producer.

Now, Richins is one of several singers competing on Season 22 of “American Idol.” Following an audition that wowed celebrity judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, the 20-year-old contestant appeared in the Hollywood round that aired Sunday and Monday to officially advance to the show’s top 24.

It’s been several months since the show filmed its first few rounds, but even now, Richins still has a hard time believing that she made it on “American Idol” — especially when she considers the obstacles that even just a year ago made such a moment seem impossible.

An unexpected conversation

During her “American Idol” audition, Richins described Henefer as being “in the middle of nowhere, honestly.”

In a town with no gas stations or stoplights, the singer said performing opportunities were few and far between. But she embraced the opportunities that presented themselves, like performing in high school musicals with her sisters or singing the national anthem at high school games. She even tried out for “Idol” when the show rolled through Salt Lake City in 2019 — the last pre-COVID preliminary auditions — although nothing came of it.

But because of stage fright and performance anxiety, Richins also ran away from opportunities.

In her “Idol” audition, Richins shared that she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid disease “that’s super painful and when it flares up, it’s just crazy mood swings,” she said.

“It’s been a struggle to see the most beautiful girl in the world, who I know has more potential in her finger than I will ever have, struggle to regulate her emotions,” her father said with emotion during the audition. “She can be going from ‘this is the best thing in the world’ to turning her head towards you and saying she wants to die.”

A year ago, especially, Richins said, she struggled with her mental health and self-love. While watching this past season of “American Idol” with her father, he pointed out to her that she could be on the show.

“You don’t realize how talented you are,” he said. “That could literally be you.”

But she couldn’t see it.

So she went across the country to do sales for a summer, where a conversation on a stranger’s doorstep in Florida opened her eyes. The man’s words traveled with her back home, where she began to embrace music again. Richins and her dad would go on drives through the canyon and sing. They began to share some of these performances online, which eventually caught the attention of “Idol.”

And although Richins was still working to push through her nerves — something she considers an ongoing struggle — she remembered that unexpected conversation with a stranger.

“Every time that I get anxiety,” she said, “I just think about the fact that God wouldn’t have given me this gift if there weren’t ways to work through it.”

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Getting on ‘American Idol’

Richins almost didn’t go through with her “Idol” audition.

When her online preliminary audition with producers came, she had COVID-19. She wasn’t sure she could give it her all, but producers told her they could see through the sickness and gauge if she was a good candidate for the show.

So Richins auditioned from the garage of her mom’s house. She hadn’t even told her family she was auditioning because she didn’t think she’d make it. But after performing “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town and Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange,” Richins was surprised to get validation from the producers: They wanted her to audition in front of the “Idol” celebrity judges — the big audition that airs on national TV.

Richins ended up getting even more validation during that audition, which filmed last fall. Walking into the large room to stand before Perry, Richie and Bryan was an “out of body experience,” she said.

“I feel like I kind of blacked out,” she said. “I walked in there, I’m standing in front of them and I still felt like I was watching it on TV. … For me to actually be there was just so surreal, I couldn’t even take it all in. It was just a weird feeling.

“This is the kind of show that can change your whole life. So I mean, it’s a lot of pressure.”

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Richins was visibly nervous during the audition, which has more than 1 million views on YouTube. Before diving into “Something in the Orange,” she shook both of her arms and let out a deep sigh.

As she sang, the judges gave each other knowing smiles and nods. Richins said she’s still trying to figure out who she is as an artist — she describes her style as a mix of pop, country and soul — but the judges praised her and told her she has a “unique tone” that is hard to come by.

“From the first note, I had like full body wave of chills. I liked even how you just kind of shook it out, you hacked up something and started singing,” Bryan said with a laugh following the performance. “The coolest thing is you’re 20 from a little old small town in Utah. You have it, so great job.”

More than a competition

Reflecting on her “Idol” audition, one of the biggest things that stands out to Richins isn’t anything the judges said or even receiving a golden ticket to the Hollywood round.

Instead, it’s the convoluted path that led to her audition, riddled with self-doubt and fear and avoidance, but also the courage to work through it all to do something she had a hard time visualizing.

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“It was kind of beautiful to see,” she said. “Everything happened the way it was supposed to, and I grew in the ways I needed to, to be able to come home and follow that dream and have things fall into place and be the person I am now going into the competition.

“I never should have doubted myself all these years to begin with,” she continued. “A year ago, I didn’t even want to be alive, honestly. It was just a huge moment for me. I’m so glad that I pushed through all those hard days, because here I am.”