Singer/pianist Kodi Lee brought the audience to its feet as he took home the grand prize on America’s Got Talent on Wednesday night. The win is a dream come true for the 22-year-old performer and his family, and a very big win for inclusion.
Lee, who was born blind and diagnosed with autism at age 4, has been one of the most popular contestants on the show this season. If you’ve watched any of his performances, it’s not hard to see why – he is a soulful and powerful musician. His deeply moving audition performance went viral in May and prompted judge Gabrielle Union to call him a performer who is “going to change the world.”
Lee’s final performance earned a standing ovation from the audience and high praise from Simon Cowell, one of the show’s most notoriously rigorous judges. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever, ever heard,” Cowell said, adding, “That was as good as I’ve ever heard.”
Lee’s mother, Tina, explained during his audition how music has changed her son’s life:
“Through music and performing, he was able to withstand living in this world,” said Lee’s mother, Tina. “Because when you’re autistic, it’s really hard to do what everyone else does. It actually has saved his life, playing music.”
In Lee’s case, music has been an avenue to social, intellectual, and emotional inclusion – and this has greatly improved his quality of life.
Lee’s incredibly moving performances this season have promoted inclusion in a special and essential way: his music has connected him to the mainstream population emotionally and intellectually. Individuals with disabilities are often dehumanized in society, and relational connections with the mainstream population are crucial to changing this. Through his music, Lee has been able to spread inclusive thinking over 300 million times to all those who have watched his performances. He has helped inclusive thinking go viral.
Congratulations to Kodi Lee and his mother Tina; we are inspired by you and grateful for your example of dreaming and changing the world.