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Jennifer Hudson ‘heartbroken' following death of American Idol colleague

Debra Byrd has passed away aged 72

Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to vocal coach Debra Byrd
Emmy Griffiths
TV & Film Editor
7 March 2024
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Jennifer Hudson has paid a heartbreaking tribute following the death of her American Idol colleague, who has died aged 72. Debra Byrd worked on the show as a vocal coach, and was hugely prolific in her field, having also worked on shows including American Idol, the Oscars as well as the hit singing competition. 

Sharing several snaps of Debra, Jennifer wrote: “Heartbroken over the passing of Debra Byrd, the vocal coach on American Idol. She encouraged and supported us from the very beginning! I am so grateful for everything she taught us. She will be dearly missed, but her legacy lives on through the music of countless artists she influenced during her lifetime. Rest in peace, Debra.”

Vocal Coach Debra Byrd and Simon Cowell in 2003© Michel Boutefeu
Vocal Coach Debra Byrd and Simon Cowell in 2003

Debra’s famous clientele include Kelly Clarkson, Bob Dylan and Barry Manilow, who also shared a post following her death. He wrote: “This is one of the saddest days of my life. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Debra is no longer with me. She was one of the most wonderful friends I’ve ever had. I will miss you forever, my love.” 

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Replying to the post, another person wrote: “I remember her so well! When I was in high school, on one of his tours, he used high school students to create an ensemble to join him on stage for It’s A Miracle and I Write The Songs. Debra rehearsed with us the day of, making sure we nailed the harmonies and choreography until Barry joined in tech. She was wonderful! So talented, so patient, so kind!” 

Another person added: “Such sad news for all of us. My condolences to you Barry, and all who knew and loved her.” 

American Idol contestant Clay Aiken, who appeared on the show in 2003, shared a statement with Deadline about Debra, which read: “I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that no one was a better mentor, coach, teacher, or champion to us Idol contestants than Byrd was,' Aiken said, according to the outlet. 'No one spent more time with us.

Vocal coach Debra Byrd in 2011© Kevin Winter
Vocal coach Debra Byrd in 2011

“I'll never forget her drilling into us how we needed to look right into the camera and connect with the audience at home. She was a light in so many lives. I am so lucky that I got to call her a friend.”

As well as a hugely successful career as a vocal coach, Debra was also known for her band Landyflash, which achieved a Billboard Hot 10 record for Street Singin’. Her vocals are also on soundtracks including The Lion King, 2 1/2 and Sister Act II: Back in the Habit.

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