updated 04/10/2014 AT 10:30 AM ET
•originally published 04/10/2014 AT 11:25 AM ET
This isn’t how they wanted to go viral.
“In rehearsal today, my voice totally went out,” Caleb Johnson told PEOPLE following his performance. “There was so much crud in my throat. I couldn’t breathe. We had to lower the key just so I could get through it tonight.”
Johnson, 22, says he came down with bronchitis last week and had to visit the doctor three times before his symptoms finally began to recede.
“It was awful,” he told reporters of not being able to sing to his fullest potential on Wednesday. “My voice kind of went out towards the end of the song. I just thought, ‘Oh, Jesus. Just let me get through it.’ ”
Johnson wasn’t alone. Dexter Roberts also fell ill this past week.
“I’m glad they didn t show the whole clip of me at rehearsal because it was bad,” said Roberts, 22. “I got in there and started singing in the bathroom just to warm myself up, and I cracked. It was bad.”