Danny Gokey, the third-place finisher of American Idol's eighth season, captivated viewers with his soulful sound and tragic personal story. Danny sits down with Oprah.com's Screening Room to chat about his late wife, Sophia, and his rise to fame.
Bradford Dworak: Why do you think you were so successful on American Idol?
Danny Gokey: Looking back, as funny as this is, I now see one reason why they picked me—because I had such a compelling story—but then on top of that, I had a pretty good voice to go along with the story.
BD: Did the whole American Idol experience help you cope with your personal struggles—the death of your beloved wife, Sophia?
DG: This experience has meant a new beginning. It's a new hope almost because now a few people saw what I walked through, and coming on the show, it's like it opened up a new door just to live life again and be happy.
I don't know where I would be without the show. I was looking for hope in any avenue. … When my wife passed away, I wanted to die, but parts of the show brought a new reason to live.
BD: What was your favorite performance on the show?
DG: I have a few of them: "PYT," "What Hurts the Most," "You Are So Beautiful."
BD: Where does your connection with music come from?
DG: Having a foundation in gospel music, you learn how to connect with music. You learn how to make music yours. Because music and the gospel arena have so much meaning. It has history tied into it.
BD: So are you interested in pursuing a career in the gospel/Christian music market?
DG: I don't plan on doing Christian music at this point. I don't want to exclude anyone out of my music, but the music I want to do, I am looking at two ways. The area I want to do first, I want to do a fusion: a Latin, soul, R&B fusion. That's what I see myself in. I've also been entertaining the idea of doing very, very, very modern, contemporary country.
BD: Country! That is pretty surprising. Do you have anything else on your iPod that might surprise your fans?
DG: A lot of people know that I am into salsa, merengue. I listen to everything. On the iPod, I have this group called Family Force 5—it's like heavy-metal rock with '80s beats. It's really weird. You gotta listen to them. They do some pretty cool things.
BD: Are there any people in the industry you hope to work with?
DG: Brian McKnight, Lauren Hill, Marc Anthony—those people are probably my top people.
BD: What are you most looking forward to on the American Idol tour this summer?
DG: I love meeting people, and I can't wait to meet the people that I've impacted. Second, I get to be open about my situation I'm sure. I'm hoping between my third and fourth song be able to share with people the experience of losing my wife and what I did to overcome that.
BD: You started a foundation in your wife's memory—tell us more about it.
DG: I established a foundation called Sophia's Heart Foundation. We have several programs, but one of the programs that we are strongly pushing toward and implementing is our music and arts program. The one thing that brought me hope was music in my most hopeless situation. And I want to take music and arts and I want to bring that to the underprivileged children in the area and bring hope to them.
BD: Obviously losing your wife was very difficult for you. What is the best piece of advice you have been given to help you cope with your loss?
DG: In the midst of hard times, to believe something good is going to happen out of it. I know it's not some compelling one-liner, but I think that's the hardest thing to do. When you're faced with negativity after negativity, it's hard to believe something. But … when you see someone whose gone through the overcoming, it's because they actually believe something good can happen out of it, that's probably the best advice you could ever be given.
BD: Your trademark on the show was your glasses. Have you always been a glasses person?
DG: I've always loved glasses. Just being on the show opened up a new door. I came on the show with about 15 pairs, and I left the show with probably 60 pairs of glasses.
BD: Sixty pairs of glasses! Wow, that's impressive.
DG: That's another thing I am interested in doing: a line of glasses. You know, because I would like to try that line of glasses then with my foundation.
BD: Tell us about the first time you were recognized?
DG: I went out to the Cheesecake Factory in Milwaukee and, man, people were just looking at me left and right and I couldn't believe it. I was only on the show a night before, yet people just recognized me as I walked into this place, it was just kind of unique and I was like "whoa." So people started coming up to me and taking pictures with me and having me sign stuff.
BD: What do you hope to prove in the future as an artist?
DG: I want to have a movement with my music, you know? I want to have a mission and a goal. I want to entertain people. … I want to bring a very relevant message of hope, not something that is cheesy. It has to be relevant.
Catch up with Kris and the other American Idols!
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, June 20, 2013
© 2012 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.