American Idol contestant Kalifa Wilson, aka “Kai the Singer,” credits her church with supporting her as a musician and helping her make it to the show. For her whole life, her family has struggled financially, but music has been something Wilson has turned to as a way of dealing with stress, and her church provided the guitar she played during her audition.
“I grew up kind of rough,” says the 19-year-old from Kingstree, South Carolina. During her childhood, her family spent time in shelters and hotels. Once, they were homeless, living out of a car. “But I thank God for the car,” she says.
Her family still struggles financially. There are eight people living in her house, and not everyone has a bed to sleep on. Wilson says she just wraps up in a blanket, adding, “But it’s OK. I’m thankful for it.”
An Emotional Audition
When she auditioned before the judges, Wilson started with Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” playing the guitar while she sang. The judges were kind, but not overly impressed. Katy Perry said, “I think the nerves got the best of you.” However, Lionel Richie invited Wilson to try a second song. Wilson traded her guitar for a piano and performed The Temptations’ “My Girl,” changing the words “my girl” to “music.”
The American Idol judges and Wilson were all moved when Wilson finished. Perry told her that she had a “beautiful soul” and had “evolved right before our eyes.” The pop star said she appreciated the authenticity of Wilson’s performance, which had moved her to tears. But the judge was even more touched when Wilson said that her church was the reason she was able to audition. “Your church sent you here?” Perry exclaimed and then had to visibly fight to keep back her emotions.
Perry said she was emotional because she could relate to Wilson’s story: “I was raised in the church too, and I didn’t grow up with any money, and money was always the problem. It was the cause of everything not great in my life. We had food stamps and ate at the food bank…because my parents were travelling ministers.” Perry went on to say that when she was 13, her church bought her a guitar, at which point Wilson said her church had done the same. Perry told Wilson she understood how hard her struggle was, saying, “You’re an inspiration to so many people by getting here today.”
Then the judges finally told Wilson what she was hoping to hear: She was going to Hollywood, the next phase of the American Idol competition. After telling her family the good news, an emotional Wilson expressed how thankful she was.
Wilson says she hopes the competition will open the door to more opportunities for her in her life: “You kind of get tired of seeing your family struggle, and it’s like, everybody wants you to go college and be something, but it takes money to go to college, and I’m kind of behind on that… If this, like, could just blow up, you know, that would be nice.”