American Idol pays tribute to Debra Byrd and Ernie Fields Jr. (Dedication explained)

Vocal coach Debra Byrd worked on American Idol for 10 seasons from 2002 to 2011, while Ernie Fields Jr. was a music contractor for the show.

Fox's "American Idol" Finalist Party
Fox's "American Idol" Finalist Party / Kevin Winter/GettyImages

The next round of auditions and visiting the hometowns of American Idol judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie is what we saw in tonight's new episode of American Idol. The final moments of the episode ended in a dedication to two people who, unfortunately, passed away. It ready "In Loving Memory of Debra Byrd, Ernie Fields, Jr." If you're an avid watcher of the show, you're probably wondering who they are, and how the two are connected to the singing competition series.

Byrd was a vocal coach on American Idol, serving in the role for the first 10 seasons from 2002 to 2011, per Deadline. For context, we are currently on season 22 in 2024. She died on March 5, 2024 at the age of 72. No cause of death of the Ohio native has been shared yet.

Fields Jr. worked as a music contractor for the competition series, working on 68 episodes spanning from 2007 to 2013, as his IMDb page lists. He passed away on March 8, 2024 at the age of 89. A cause of death has not been reported, though his obituary in The Boston Globe says his passing was unexpected.

Remembering Debra Byrd

On American Idol, there are so many talented contestants, whether they became winners or not. And when it comes to many of them, she helped to train and work with the young hopefuls during their time in the competition. Those include winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, runner-ups Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert, one of the most iconic talents Jennifer Hudson, and many more. On Instagram, Hudson shared the news and her sadness over the passing of her former mentor:

Aiken shared a statement, per TVLine, remembering how "no one was a better mentor, coach, teacher, or champion" to the Idol contestants. He also pointed out that Byrd spent the most time with them compared to others, and provided great advice. Melinda Doolittle, who came in third place on season 6, also took to Instagram to share how Byrd mentored her through Hollywood Week and beyond, and she "couldn't have done it without Debra Byrd."

Though mostly working behind the scenes, the vocal coach was an icon in her own right in the industry. Other than her role on American Idol, she also served as a vocal coach on The Voice. Outside of television, Byrd had a close friendship and working relationship with singer and songwriter Barry Manilow. Being a part of Lady Flash, she and the group provided backup vocals for him in concert multiple times. Byrd also got to work with Bob Dylan, various artists throughout the years, Broadway stars, and more.

Remembering Ernie Fields Jr.

Fields Jr. will be remembered as a talented musician who worked on a number of shows, not just Idol. He also has credits on reality series The Voice and The X Factor, as well as scripted titles. He wrote the score for the 1978 movie Disco Godfather, which was directed by J. Robert Wagoner and starred Rudy Ray Moore and Carol Speed.

As written in his obituary, Fields Jr. had the honor of performing with incredible musicians, such as Aretha Franklin and the Ray Charles orchestra. Idol fans might remember seeing him up on stage when playing the didgeridoo during a 2010 performance of the song "Come Together" alongside contestant Crystal Bowersox. You can watch the full performance here:

Both Debra Byrd and Ernie Fields Jr. will definitely be remembered by many, including the American Idol family. On behalf of the Hidden Remote community, our thoughts are with their friends and family.

American Idol season 22 airs new episodes Sunday nights on ABC. Episodes are also available to stream on Hulu.

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