Gokey isnít your average celebrity.
You wonít find him dating a supermodel, fighting with the
paparazzi or heading to rehab for "exhaustion."
The soul-filled 29-year-old Milwaukee native is doing something
many singing sensations donít ó heís taking his time in the
spotlight to further a cause thatís close to his heart, and become a
positive role model for children.
Hollywood, take note.
Thereís little doubt Gokey is a born entertainer. The son of a
construction worker dad, who at one time worked three jobs to support
his family, and a "house mom," who baby-sat the neighborhood
kids, Gokey was one of six musically inclined children.
"My dad would sit around and play the guitar and we would all
sing," remembers Gokey. "All my brothers and sisters are
But it wasnít until he turned 20 and joined Faith Builders
International Ministry, where Gokey served as praise and worship
leader at both locations (in Beloit and on Howell Avenue in
Milwaukee), that he saw music as a career.
"That was a turning point in my life," he says.
"They have a great music program. The people who did it were
serious about it, which makes a huge difference."
But his life took an unexpected turn in 2008 when his wife of four
years, Sophia, died of a congenital heart disease. Unable to cope,
Gokey left Faith Builders. "I couldnít work anymore," he
says. "I just couldnít pull myself together."
Gokey met Sophia years earlier when they were both members of a
youth service group at a local church. And it was Sophia who gave
Gokey the push he needed to try out for "American Idol."
"People would always talk to me about it. Sophia was a big fan
of the show," he says. "Then I got DVR, and I got interested
in it. We dreamed about it together. Finally, I made up my mind to try
On Aug 8, just four months after Sophiaís death, Gokey made the
trek to Kansas City with friends, including fellow "American
Idol" hopeful Jamar Rogers, to make his dream a reality.
Nothing Gokey had seen on TV could prepare him for the auditions in
Kansas City. With nearly 12,000 people in attendance, and Gokey near
an emotional breaking point, he leaned on his friends for support.
"Itís really different from what you see on TV. First, the
judges werenít there. I went through three auditions with producers
and executives before I even saw the judges," he says. "I
just remember it being a really emotional day; not knowing what to do.
I was crying one moment, then OK the next."
When he finally stood before the judges, his first thought had
nothing to do with music. "They looked smaller in person,"
he laughs. "The TV made them look bigger. Randy is my height,
After Gokey and Rogers breezed through Kansas City with Golden
Tickets in hand, it was on to Hollywood week ó and another emotional
roller coaster for Gokey, who was still coping with his wifeís
"You are crushing yourself. Youíre confused, understanding
what life has done to you. Then you are trying to find hope and
purpose," he says. "It was probably the hardest week of the
whole ĎAmerican Idolí experience for me. I wasnít sleeping. I
hit a three-month depression that lasted into December. I didnít
want to be on the show. When I was in front of the camera, I did what
I had to do, but I was a wreck."
But in December Gokey began "seeking answers from my
faith" on a personal trip to Nashville. "Thatís when I let
it go. Thatís when I felt free."
But Gokey suffered another blow in January when his friend,
supporter and fellow Season 8 "Idol" hopeful Rogers was
voted off the show.
"At that point, I was prepared to handle what was to come my
way," says Gokey. "I was mad at first. I didnít want him
With a spot secured in the top 36, Gokey breezed through the
competition. He forged new friendships and immediately bonded with
roommates Michael Sarver and Anoop Desai, as well as fellow contestant
Matt Giraud. "We had a lot of fun," he laughs.
But as the season wore on, Gokey found himself at a serious
disadvantage from his fellow contestants ó spending his life singing
Christian music meant he didnít know a lot of mainstream songs.
"I probably had the hardest time of anyone choosing songs each
week," he says. "I would choose songs Iíve never heard,
then narrow them down, choose a song, learn it, then try to rearrange
it. There was a lot of pressure."
Looking back, Gokey says if he could have done one thing
differently, he would have spent more time studying all the genres of
music. "That was my biggest downfall on the show."
High points of the season for Gokey include his renditions of
"P.Y.T.," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "What
Hurts the Most." He also credits guest mentor Jamie Foxx for
"bringing awareness to things I needed to be reminded of. He told
me, ĎNo matter whatís going on, youíve got to sing. Youíve got
to meet the challenges ahead.í"
Low points? His performances of "Get Ready" and also
"Dream On" after he failed to hit Steven Tylerís iconic
Gokey admits what goes on behind the scenes of the show is a lot
more than just music.
"It felt like singing was one of the last things we did on the
show," he says. "There was always something else going on:
interviews, shopping, meet-and-greets, photo shoots. Music was a small
part of the competition, but also the main part. Thatís what makes
the show successful. It all comes with the territory."
Another "Idol" insider secret: "Simonís actually a
little nicer in person."
And though the nation was in shock at Kris Allenís
come-from-behind win to become this yearís American Idol, Gokey, for
one, was not surprised. "If you would have asked me at the
beginning of the season, I would have said the front runners were Matt
Giraud, Lil Rounds, Adam Lambert and myself." Many credit Gokey
for Allenís win thanks to the possible influx of "Gokeheads"
who turned their votes to Allen after Gokey finished as second-runner
up. "But between him and Adam, no, I was not surprised. I knew
Kris had grown and had a large fan base. Things were moving in the
right direction for him."
Man on a Mission
Today, in addition to performing in the "American Idolís
Live" tour, which will rock the Bradley Center on Aug. 28, Gokey
is focusing his energy on building and promoting Sophiaís Heart
Foundation. He is president and founder of the nonprofit, which helps
disadvantaged children. The foundation also includes a program to
provide donated musical instruments to children.
"The foundation is going to be married to my music. I donít
know if people see what I see, but I see it in my heart. Thereís a
bigger plan in my life for music. I want music to be the message and
my foundation to be the action."
He says he "wouldnít rule out" becoming a contestant on
"Dancing With the Stars," which would give him a chance to
address Cowellís incessant criticism of Gokeyís dance moves and
lack of rhythm.
Gokey plans to split his time between Milwaukee and Nashville, but
says heíll always have a house in Milwaukee. "I love my
city," he says. That affection for his hometown is why he chose
to locate his headquarters for Sophiaís Heart Foundation in
Milwaukee, where he believes it will serve as a source of hope and
encouragement for those in need.
"I want it to be a place that facilitates any need," he
says. "In my darkest hour, music gave me hope. I went on ĎAmerican
Idolí and it gave me a whole new reason for living. If I can became
a part of childrenís lives with music, then I can find out what
their struggles are. Entertainment is getting to be so indulgent and
so all about yourself. I donít want to be that person.
"I think people will respect my music more when they see what
Iím doing," he says, "because I just donít talk about
it, I do it." M.