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Lionel Richie showcases important legacy of his hometown of Tuskegee on ‘American Idol’

There’s no place like home for legendary musician Lionel Richie.

For Richie, that is the historic town of Tuskegee, Alabama, where he’s bringing his fellow “American Idol” judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan to show them his roots on a new episode of the singing competition series.

“I was born and raised with the Tuskegee Airmen,” Richie said in an exclusive clip shared with CNN from Sunday’s upcoming episode, going on to explain that the “Airmen were the first group of Black air force pilots who bravely fought in World War II. This was a time before integration.”

Before World War II, Black Americans were not allowed to become aviators in the military, but the US Army Air Corps created what was then an experimental training program for Black aviators – later referred to as the Tuskegee Airmen – at Alabama’s Tuskegee Army Airfield.

In the “American Idol” clip, the trio of judges are seen touching down and are greeted by uniformed military personnel who present each of them with their very own leather aviator jackets.

They venture onto the campus of Tuskegee University, where they receive a warm and rousing welcome from the school’s students, cheerleaders and marching band.

This season on “Idol,” all three judges are featured bringing each other to their respective hometowns where they hold auditions. Perry hails from Santa Barbara, California, and Bryan is a Leesburg, Georgia native.

Richie said in a 2023 interview with “GMA” anchor Robin Roberts that he was looking forward to bringing his “Idol” costars and the show to his hometown, saying he felt it was a chance to “get them to understand the roots of another kind of Black America that people don’t get to hear and talk about every day.”

The town is certainly a special place for the Grammy-winner, who said in this week’s clip that despite his success as an artist, “Tuskegee for me was about as far away from music as you could possibly think of.”

In 2012, Richie brought his music much closer to home when he released his 10th studio album, titled “Tuskegee,” which features duets with various country artists performing his classic hits.

“Coming back to Tuskegee was wonderful, it was overwhelming,” Richie said in the “American Idol” clip. “It was just one of those moments where I had to kind of reflect.”

With pride, Richie added, “And it’s still home.”

The full episode of “American Idol” will air this Sunday on ABC at 8 p.m. in the viewer’s timezone.

CNN’s Andy Rose and Elizabeth Wolfe contributed to this report.

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