It’s unlikely viewers will see more inspiring contestants on Season 14 of America’s Got Talent than singer Kodi Lee. The 22-year-old is both blind and autistic, but he hasn’t let these medical setbacks keep him from becoming a professional musician. The Southern California native considers any day that he gets to perform “a good day,” so now that he’s competing on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, only more good days lie ahead.
Making Kodi even more special, the fact that he’s truly a musical savant. As stated on his official website, he is one of 25 people in the entire world that possess such a keen ability for musical expression, perfect pitch and an audio photographic memory, which means he can recall music after hearing a song just one time. Not only has Kodi mastered classical works by Chopin, Bach and Mozart, he can perform rock, pop and R&B. He’s mastered six instruments, and loves to tap dance.
Even before the show premiered, executive producer and judge Simon Cowell called him “incredible,” a rare compliment from the famously acerbic critic. “I hope the public will love him,” Cowell told USA Today, “and I think they will.” Cowell typically doesn’t talk about any of the contestants before the show premieres, so this was a big nod of confidence. While judge Julianna Hough cried during Kodi’s performance on the premiere, Gabrielle Union gave him the Golden Buzzer. So, it’s likely he’ll be sticking around NBC’s talent competition until the very end, with a solid chance of becoming the show’s $1 million grand prize winner.
Here’s what you need to know about Kodi Lee…
1. He’s a True Musical Savant & Is Also a Great Tap Dancer
Dr. Darold Treffert, a psychiatrist in Wisconsin who has studied Savant Syndrome for more than 50 years, and was the medical consultant on Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning turn in Rain Man told The Press Enterprise, “[Kodi] does fit the definition of a prodigious musical savant. I’ve been following his career a bit. He is blind and has been given a diagnosis of autism. Yet, he has this spectacular musical ability.”
As if being able to play six instruments and sing wasn’t enough, Kodi also started tap lessons at Temecula Dance Company, and naturally, he’s great at it. Kodi calls the dance studio his “happy place” and has posted on Instagram videos of himself both tapping and singing at the same time.
2. Kodi Is BFFs With Season 13 ‘AGT’ Semi-Finalist Mikayla Phillips
Kodi appears to be more excited than nervous to compete on AGT, and that may be because last season, he was on hand to support best friend Mikayla Phillips, who earned a coveted golden buzzer and made it all the way to the semi-finals. The two regularly perform together at local gigs, and just like he supported Mikayla throughout her entire journey on the series, Mikayla’s now returning the favor.
Mikayla and Kodi aren’t just friends for the show, they’ve been tight for years. Mikayla and Kodi celebrate Friendsgiving together, and their families get together for Christmas. When Mikayla and Kodi record music together in their homemade studio, they include Kodi’s younger brother Derek, who plays guitar, to join in on the process.
3. Kodi Almost Died at Birth
Kodi was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, and nearly died when he was just five days old. In addition to becoming legally blind, he was officially diagnosed with autism at age 4. However, such issues were no competition for his passion for music. He performed in his high school musical of ‘The Little Mermaid,’ kept singing, and now the singer, pianist and entertainer is ready for his big break, performing in front of millions on AGT.
Judge Gabrielle Union said Kodi has “changed the world” since auditioning for the show, and Simon Cowell revealed to the audience that he’s already broken an AGT record. Cowell said, “I want to thank Paul Simon, who never really gives permission for anyone to sing [“Bridge Over Troubled Water”] because it’s very precious to him, and he gave [Kodi] clearance within 30 minutes.” Turning his focus back to Kodi, “You are genuinely one of most extraordinary people and talents we’ve had the great fortune to have on any show we’ve ever made. God bless you,” Cowell said.
4. He Did Not Have a Big Social Media Following Before ‘AGT’
Unlike many other contestants now featured on NBC’s talent competition, Kodi was largely unknown. Prior to his Golden Buzzer performance, he didn’t have a massive following on social media, nor had he released a debut album or EP. Before America’s Got Talent, Kodi had less than 1K followers on Instagram, now, as Kodi Lee returns to compete during the reality show’s Live Rounds of competition, his account is verified, and he has 268K followers on the social media site.
While Kodi may seem like an overnight success, he’s been pounding the pavement for years, and performing at any gig that will have him. While he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall, his most recent shows were at nearby elementary schools, wineries and bars in Temecula. After becoming a media sensation on AGT, his band, Midnight Satellites, has sold out every show.
5. Kodi’s Whole Family Supports His Rock Star Dreams
Backstage at AGT, Kodi has the support of his parents and two siblings, Kayla and Derek. And whether Kodi becomes a rock star or not, his mother Tina Lee credits music for helping him triumph over autism. She said, “He has all these talents, but he has trouble communicating. He used to tantrum like 30 times a day. After he started performing, he got it. It really helped us to get his autism under control. He wants to be an entertainer.”
As Kodi’s star continues to shine Tina Lee said, “Kodi has been preparing for this day all his life. He works so hard every day on getting better and constantly improving. He worked diligently with his vocal coach Nonie Hilgesen to make sure his audition would be at his best. And honestly, Kodi is ready to go all the time and in his words … ‘HECK YEAH!'”
Kodi’s showing on national TV do not just impress audiences at home, he’s wowing his own family. After his performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” during the Live Rounds his mother gushed, “What really blew me away was his performance was literally the best I have ever heard him sing,” his mother said of– “He took it to a totally different level that shocked my entire family. I honestly could not stop crying happy tears.”