The 26-year-old Nebraska native, who now lives in Los Angeles, was instantly a fan favorite when he wowed the three judges with his audition of James Bay's "Let It Go." His emotional backstory brought both the judges and viewers to tears when it aired.
"The reason that I'm here today is for my brothers," Townsend explained to the judges during his audition, revealing that he lost both of his siblings — Zack and Matt, who had taken their lives. A YouTube video of his audition has racked up nearly 2 million views since it was posted on March 3.
On Sunday night, however, Bryan had to tell Townsend that his time on the show was coming to a close.
"This is a tough one, it's very heavy on our hearts to let you know that you're not in our top 20. Man, we want to lift you up and let you understand that you are tremendously talented. Do not slow down in this musical dream," Bryan told Townsend, according to Good Housekeeping.
Townsend promised he "never" would before walking off the stage.
After the show, Bryan took to Twitter to once again encourage Townsend to pursue his dreams.
"Don’t ever give up @nicktownsend40 things WILL get better. It was an honor to get to know you and your story, this was a tough decision for us. #AmericanIdol #DisneyAulani," the country star wrote.
Townsend didn't immediately reply to Bryan's tweet — but his fans did, and they didn't hold back their disappointment with judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Bryan. Dozens of viewers slammed the celebrities.
"You are letting the good one go why," one "Idol" fan asked.
"HORRIBLE decision. So disappointed," another echoed.
"SO DISAPPOINTED HE WAS MY MAIN MAN WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!!!" a third exclaimed.
Many agreed that Townsend's elimination "broke their hearts" and said it was a "bad decision" to let him go.
Others encouraged Bryan to keep in touch with Townsend, noting that the pair share similar struggles.
Bryan's older brother, Chris, was killed in a car accident when the musician was just 19 years old, Country Living reports. Years later, his sister, Kelly, unexpectedly died at her home.
"I lost both my siblings ... and I just applaud you for keeping a positive attitude and continuing to fight and just try to be a light for your parents, too," Bryan previously told Chris before handing him a ticket to Hollywood.