Danny Gokey Gives Advice to Idol Hopeful

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During the recent auditions for American Idol, 26-year-old Chicago native Chris Medina wowed audiences with his rendition of “Break Even” by The Scripts, and stole their hearts with the emotional story of his fiancée, Juliana Ramos, who suffered a severe brain injury in a car wreck shortly before they were to be married. The story also brought detractors and critics who viewed Chris and American Idol as emotionally manipulative, and someone who was exploiting his fiancée.

Danny Gokey, who placed third on American Idol’s eighth season, can relate to the criticism. Danny auditioned for American Idol four weeks after his wife, Sophia, died of complications from congenital heart disease surgery, and critics accused him of exploiting his wife’s story to gain sympathy votes during the contest.

During a fundraising event for Sophia’s Heart Foundation, a new Nashville organization that Danny is founding to help homeless families, he took a moment to give his opinion of his critics:

In their minds they have this idea that I just used my wife as a stepping stone to get where I wanted to go, but if that were the case, what would you call all this right here that I’m talking about [charities helped by the Sophia’s Heart Foundation]? This is exactly what comes out of tragedy. Maybe their cupcake lives are real pretty, but some of us don’t got cupcake lives, and we have to go though some things, and it’s made us stronger.

So you have a guy like [Chris] on TV who shared his story. You know what, I remember when I went out and shared my story, before American Idol locked my—they locked all our social network accounts—I got on there and checked and people were writing me e-mails. There were two or three stories that I read personally where people said they were going to take their own life because they were so fed up with life. When they heard my story they said, ‘I’m going to give life a second chance, because if he can go through this, I can go through this.’

Referring to his critics, Danny said, “It’s very selfish of them to think like that. So honestly, American Idol’s going to keep doing it, so I suggest they turn their [televisions] off and not watch it if it bothers them that much.”

Danny also had encouragement and advice for Chris:

The biggest advice I can give to him is you’ve got to keep your head out of that. You do what you want to do. I believe for him, when I watched it—I think it’s been two years since she’s been in that condition, so he’s had time to process it, so I think it’s going to be an easier journey for him, whereas for me, I only had a month to process it before my first audition. I remember it really messed up my mind. I remember on the show I really couldn’t fully show who Danny Gokey was as a performer, because I felt the weight of the whole situation. Yet at the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I needed [American Idol] to divert the attention. So, my advice to him is to stay focused, don’t worry about what other people are saying, be yourself. And you know what? Win every time you perform. Every time you go up there [and perform] and have a win for her and her family, and for everyone who is watching you as a sign of hope. Win for them.

A 77,000-square-foot building was donated to Sophia’s Heart Foundation to house the Compassion Nashville project, a transitional home containing 33 rooms for homeless families in Nashville that will provide tutoring, life-skills training, literacy training and job training programs for children and families.

According to press materials for Compassion Nashville, there are currently 2,200 homeless children in Nashville. The project will also provide outreach to children and families in the Nashville community, providing a place for them to participate in after-school programs, including contemporary choir, dance teams, audio and video recording and engineering and other performing arts training.

Project Nashville is scheduled to open by early March. For more information on Compassion Nashville and Sophia's Heart Foundation, visit sophiasheart.org.

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