Yes, America. Kenadi Dodds has talent.

September 24, 2020

Perseverance runs in the family of this America’s Got Talent star. So does retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

Kenadi Dodds and her family wait backstage at America’s Got Talent for the young singer’s audition to start.

Singer songwriter Kenadi Dodds walked onto the stage of America’s Got Talent (AGT), guitar slung across her body, ready to give her all. She had auditioned for the show three times before but had never made it to the big stage. As she smiled nervously at the four judges, Sofia Vergara, Eric Stonestreet, Howie Mandel, and Simon Cowell, Kenadi knew she was ready. She started to play.

Her family watched from the wings, hanging on every note, every strum of the guitar, as the 15-year-old from Utah belted out, “One Way Ticket to Tennessee,” an original song that she and her father, Chris, had written together. The song captures a would-be superstar’s dream to one day make it to Nashville, considered the world capital of country music.

Ever since Kenadi was 4 years old she had wanted to sing for Simon Cowell. “I remember having a My Little Pony stuffed animal when I was young,” she said. “And I would always pretend it was Simon Cowell because of the way they stitched on the mouth—they stitched it into a frown. It looked grumpy. And I’d always say, ‘I’m going to make Simon smile someday.’” Now, here she was, singing to the man himself.

Enter vision loss
Cowell wasn’t the only one for whom Kenadi was performing, however. She was also singing for her 9-year-old sister and best friend, Alexis, who is losing her vision to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Alexis grew up watching Kenadi hone her musical skill—guitar lessons, piano practice, studying with a vocal coach, and working with their father, Chris, to learn songwriting. She is Kenadi’s biggest fan. “She said to me, ‘I want you to be on America’s Got Talent,’” Kenadi recalls. “‘I want to see you on the biggest stage in the world before my vision’s all gone.’” Those words hit Kenadi hard. That’s when the singer doubled down on her goals, worked tirelessly, and left it all on the AGT stage, where she melted even Simon Cowell’s heart.

Kenadi Dodds finally makes it onto the big stage—outside and COVID style—with America’s Got Talent.

Photo courtesy NBC/David Yeh

Just off stage during Kenadi’s performance, Alexis was enthralled. She stood with her mom, dad, and little sister Brooklyn, all of them rooting for Kenadi. The singer’s personal cheering section had something else in common beyond unbridled love for the girl. Like Alexis, they had all been diagnosed with RP. Kenadi’s mom, Brandi, has almost no remaining vision, only enough to tell the difference between light and dark; Kenadi’s father has a pinprick of tunnel vision remaining; and little Brooklyn was diagnosed just two weeks before the AGT audition. The family was still reeling from the news.

That means Kenadi Dodds is the only person in her family without RP, the only member who has retained full vision. “I’m grateful that I sing and that my talent’s not dancing or something, so that my family can enjoy it,” said Kenadi. “If I was a dancer, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience as much.” Kenadi’s mom was surprised to discover that her first child’s eyesight was normal. “I kind of thought maybe our kids would be visually impaired, too,” Brandi said. “My brother was visually impaired, so I didn’t grow up with sighted kids. I was nervous I wouldn’t know how to raise a sighted child.” From all appearances, however, she seems to be doing pretty well.

[My sister] said to me, ‘I want you to be on America’s Got Talent. I want to see you on the biggest stage in the world before my vision’s gone.’

Learning to set goals from a pro
Kenadi’s father, Chris, has been a huge part of his daughter’s musical journey. As a former goalball Paralympian for Team USA, Chris is someone who knows how to set a goal, make a plan, and work hard to achieve success. Working just one step ahead of his daughter he learned guitar, songwriting, vocal performance, and the music business so that he could keep her informed and focused. He knew, and now she does too, that talent will only take someone so far. After that, it’s hard work that sets one performer above the rest.

Her father’s efforts, along with the love and support of her whole family and a network of friends and extended family, are not lost on Kenadi. In fact, once she finished performing her audition song and was listening to comments from the AGT judges, emotion washed over the young girl. Howie Mandel asked why she was getting emotional. “I’m just so happy to be here,” Kenadi said, voice trembling. “And I’m so grateful for this opportunity and for all the people who’ve supported me this far.”

Simon Cowell told the Utah native what he liked about her talent. “I love artists, particularly people your age who know what kind of lane they want to go down,” he said. “You know where you want to go, and I think we can help you get there.” Then it was time for the judges to vote.

Howie Mandel: “Yeehaw! That’s a yes.”
Sofia Vergara: “Yes.”
Eric Stonestreet: “Yes.”
Simon Cowell: “That means four one-way tickets to Tennessee.”

And then it happened. The corners of Simon Cowell’s mouth turned up into what some might consider a smile. Kenadi had succeeded. She had made Simon Cowell smile. In fact, she made American smile. All we can say is, “Brava, Kenadi!”

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