The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the lone holdout artists who rarely clear their songs for talent competitions. Back in 2014, frontman Anthony Kiedis told Hollywood Life, “Nothing against Glee or any of those American Idol-type shows, but you know… music that is near and dear to our hearts and the people we wrote it for and play it for, it doesn’t make sense to be seen in a television format. It seems emotionally displaced.” And nearly a decade later, there’s still never been a Peppers performance on the American versions of Idol, The Voice, or The X Factor.
But this week, Los Angeles choir the Freedom Singers surprisingly covered the RHCP’s biggest hit, “Under the Bridge,” on America’s Got Talent — and while the Peppers did sell their catalog to Hipgnosis for a reported $140 million in 2021, Yahoo Entertainment confirmed with their publicist that “the band did in fact approve” this specific use of the song. It makes sense that they’d make an exception in this case, considering that the Freedom Singers, who met through the Arts & Culture Department of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, are, to quote Kiedis himself, the people for who, the L.A. rock icons wrote “Under the Bridge.”
“We represent a lot of things. Some people who are houseless, maybe who have come to transitional housing, some who have lost folks… and so when we see someone on the street, I want to encourage you not to look the other way,” said choir leader and musical director Micayla De Ette, directly addressing the live audience.
“We’re located not far from [the AGT auditions site] in a community called Skid Row,” said one of the choir’s members, introduced only as Pete. “Skid Row is in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, where five people per day die on the streets — houseless people. And so for us, freedom-singing brings us close together.”
It’s understandable that the stories of Micayla, Pete, and another singer who opened up about her “traumatizing” experience of living on Skid Row with her mother before the Los Angeles Community Action Network “gave me a voice and an opportunity to rebuild myself” would resonate with L.A. natives the Chili Peppers — especially with Kiedis, who penned the lyrics to “Under the Bridge.” The 1991 song, a love letter to the “City of Angels” and all its darkness, was inspired by Kiedis’s struggles with depression and addiction. And while Kiedis has never divulged the exact location of the song’s real-life bridge, he has confirmed that it’s in Downtown Los Angeles. (An intrepid Vulture reporter did some sleuthing a few years back and believes the song most likely refers to a pedestrian tunnel beneath MacArthur Park, roughly two miles from Skid Row.)
Surely Kiedis and company, who are currently on tour overseas and were unavailable for comment, will have no regrets about allowing the Freedom Singers to cover their most iconic and beloved song, once they get to see the choir’s audition — which was absolutely not “emotionally displaced.” By the end of the Freedom Singers’ triumphant and rousing performance, which Heidi Klum said gave her “goosebumps,” the judges were giving them four yeses and a standing ovation.
“This was more than just a song, more than just an audition. This was needed,” said Howie Mandel. “Thank you for informing, entertaining, and blowing the roof off this place.”
“I thought the performance was brilliant,” said the panel’s most critical and musically astute judge, Simon Cowell. “It was raw. It was real. I love the vocals, your chemistry, your friendship. This was a really special audition. I loved it.”
AGT host Terry Crews was the most moved of all, shouting, “So beautiful! I’m so happy for them!” As he congratulated the Freedom Singers backstage, he told them through tears, “I want to thank you. I want to thank you so much — for what you do for the community, for what you do for so many people. I am completely touched right now. I just thank you for being here. You are my brothers and sisters. Never forget that.”
So, the Freedom Singers are building a bridge, so to speak, and moving on to the next America’s Got Talent round. There probably isn’t another tune in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songbook that would work for them on AGT, but it would be amazing if they pulled a page from the Peppers’ own playbook and triumphantly covered Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” next. In the meantime, check out Micayla De Ette’s appearance on American Idol star Kelly Clarkson’s daytime talk show below:
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