has always embraced diversity, but M.K. Nobilette is breaking barriers as the singing competition's first openly gay contestant.
And on balance, she is pleased with the public's reaction.
"There have been a few haters, but I predicted that the minute I said it," Nobilette tells PEOPLE of her decision to publicly announce her sexual orientation. "But actually, the response has been pretty positive. Mostly, people have been really supportive."
Nobilette, who was a favorite in the judge's top 20, was voted into the top 13 by America on Thursday night.
"If this is an indication of where our country is going, it's about time," says judge Harry Connick Jr. "I hope in 10 years we won't even have to talk about this. It's a big world, and everybody lives in it."
Nobilette is hoping her voice carries her through the season, but she is excited about the influence her coming out publicly has had among the show's fans.
"People have told me how they are going to change the way that they are going to come out to their parents," says Nobilette. "That makes me really proud."
And Nobilette has nothing but support from her fellow contestants.
"I am from the South, where a lot of people judge [gay people], but I can't sit here and judge her," says fellow finalist C.J. Harris. "People try and judge me because I date a white girl, but it is a whole new world. I love M.K. She is like a sister to me. I have her back to the end."