Contributed by Gabriela Torres, Community Engagement Team

For those who love singing, dancing, comedy, and more, NBC’s America’s Got Talent is one of the best shows on television to watch some of the world’s most talented performers on stage. Now running for over 13 seasons and produced by the world-famous talent-scouting tycoon, Simon Cowell, America’s Got Talent, repeatedly captures the hearts of many by showcasing star power beyond belief. This year, a young man by the name of Kodi Lee, wowed the crowd and reduced judges to tears with his powerful rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”


About Kodi Lee

Who is Kodi Lee? Kodi is a multi-talented musician, passionate about music in all its forms. He sings a wide range of songs and genres from rock to jazz to pop to R&B and plays classics on piano like Bach, Chopin, and Mozart. In addition to singing, Kodi has taken up tap dancing where he continues to amaze everyone with his ability to express himself through music.


However, Kodi’s life story is unique. Kodi is blind and was born with optic nerve hypoplasia. At a very young age, he was also diagnosed with autism. Kodi has reached an immense level of success and works hard to achieve his dream of being a rock star, performing for thousands of fans. Currently, Kodi performs at local venues including restaurants, wineries, and music events. He has been featured in large-scale publications including the Orange County Register and the LA Times along with numerous broadcast television shows and documentaries, and now, on America’s Got Talent. Most important to note is that Kodi’s talents have given him the opportunity to travel across the globe doing what he loves most – performing!


Kodi’s One-of-a-Kind Performance Breaks Boundaries

Kodi graced the stage alongside his mother Tina and introduced himself to the panel of judges. What started out as a light-hearted introduction, turned into one of America’s Got Talent’s most emotional on-screen moments. Kodi’s performance not only reduced judges to tears but garnered a very well-deserved round of standing O’s from judges and audience members. Kodi’s performance earned him the Golden Buzzer, which allows contestants to automatically advance to the next round of the competition.


On his website, Kodi says he shares his gift with others to bring awareness to the autistic community and shed light on charitable organizations. His performance on America’s Got Talent did just this and more, breaking barriers and bringing visibility to the disability community.

Through his song choice, Kodi shattered notions of infantilization and de-sexualization commonly associated with individuals living with disabilities. The lyrics he sang so authentically showed an innate ability to be desired and the experience of longing for desire. Not only this, but Kodi’s voice commanded the room. His performance gave everyone at the taping and watching on television a unique opportunity to be present together, despite any differences.

While this televised exposure was a huge step forward for Kodi and individuals who share similar experiences and challenges, it is important to be aware of how America’s Got Talent framed Kodi’s story and success.


Addressing Televised Narratives

There’s no doubt about it. Kodi Lee has talent and his performance was nothing less than wow-worthy but it is important to shed light on misconceptions televised shows project onto audiences and their subjects.

Both America’s Got Talent and media coverage of Kodi portrayed him as someone who overcame all odds because of his musical success. This narrative brings forward the myth that disabilities are erased once an individual demonstrates exceptional talent. This, however, is not the case and denies the fact that individuals living with disabilities have complex, intersectional lives just as their families, peers, and friends do.


Food for Thought

Now that you’ve seen Kodi’s performance and are aware of how popular TV shows like America’s Got Talent create narratives around contestants, we welcome further discussion about Kodi and his performance. Feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below!

If you want to learn more about Kodi and his music, make sure you check out his website here.