American Idol season 12 is right around the corner. And while we’re all anticipating the return of the show that started it all, as the promos say, and trying to spot the eventual finalists and winners right from the auditions, this is a great time to look back on past contestants and check in to see what they’re doing.
BuddyTV recently spoke with season 8’s third-place finisher, Danny Gokey, as well as winner Kris Allen and Jamar Rogers (who competed on both Idol and The Voice) about Sophia’s Heart, a foundation Danny started in memory of his late wife. One way he’s raising money is to host a cruise (his third, in fact) to the Bahamas in February. This time around, he’s bringing aboard Kris and Jamar, who will all perform on the ship. To find out more about the foundation and cruise, and what Sophia’s Heart does to help others, read on for our exclusive interview.
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Danny, you’re preparing for your Third Annual Cruise for Sophia’s Heart. It’s all to benefit your foundation that you started in memory of your late wife. How did the idea start where you went, I should start a foundation?
Danny Gokey: It was a surprising thing. In fact, when Sophia passed, we had just got on her benefits package through her job, and that was a big thing because we were on my benefits package. But once we switched over to her benefits package, unexpectedly she passed away. And when she passed away, her principal of the school that she worked at told me that there was a death stipend on her life. And when he handed me this check, I kind of at first was upset because I felt like he put a price tag on my wife. But obviously, he didn’t. It was just what insurance companies do. And it wasn’t a check for a lot of money.
But it just didn’t feel right to go buy a car or put a down payment on a house with it. So I ended up using the funds to start the foundation because I wanted to keep her legacy alive. We had a passion to serve people. And so that’s where it really burst. Had I not had that money, no matter what money I had, it would not have done anything. But the money got the organization started.
For those who don’t know, what all does the foundation do?
Danny Gokey: So the organization, right now we specialize in about three things. We’ve given away about eight scholarships to students who have gone through pretty difficult situations in life that they’ve overcome. So we award scholarships. That’s a minor focus. Our two major focuses, we’re a homeless family facility. So in Nashville, we’ve taken 17 homeless families off the street and we’ve taken the whole family unit. There’s such a need for this because a lot of the [time], they’ll split up the mom, dad and the children.
And what Sophia’s Heart does, we’re able to take in the whole family. We’re able to restore them, able to help them get back on their feet and help them get back into becoming a productive member of society. Because the worst thing you can do to a homeless family is split them up. They’re already facing a pretty difficult situation.
But we also at the same time, we have a really heavy emphasis on music and arts. We do music and arts with youth. And our music and arts program is very explosive just like the homeless family programming. We’ve been able to serve a lot of youth with our programs.
And we are starting a focus, and this is going to be our next focus we’re doing. It’s a big one. It’s a human trafficking piece. We’re right now in the process of maybe becoming a transitional point for women that are rescued in human trafficking. And so that’s a big piece. We’re investigating that piece. But I have to mention, we’re taking another two homeless families in today, so it’s a total of 19 homeless families that we’ve been able to help.
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From your firsthand experience, have you seen positive changes in these kids when you get them involved with music programs?
Danny Gokey: Oh, absolutely. We just had our first gala for just our music and arts program recently. And we had kids come up there and share their testimonies in front of the donors. Some of the kids have shared how it’s affected them. Some of the kids dealt with severe depression. And being involved in some kind of music program has really changed their life. And then some of the kids, also, their schools took away their funding for the music programs. So a lot of these kids are finding hope in music and arts.
And one of the biggest reasons that people maybe don’t recognize is that one of the greatest preventions of homelessness, one of the greatest preventions to human trafficking, one of the greatest preventions of a lot of these things, in my opinion, and it is the music and arts piece. Because if you catch these kids at a young age and you start believing in them, you start pouring into them, a lot of these kids will walk down paths that are very strong because of the belief that’s put into them. So we really instill a lot of belief, and we basically create a family. That’s one of the things the kids kept saying is, we’re one big family.
Danny, Kris and Jamar, you all know each other from American Idol. People could just easily move on after being on a show like that. But you are all still involved in each other’s lives, as we can see. So did Danny then approach you both and ask you to be a part of this cruise this year?
Jamar Rogers: I’ve known Danny now six, seven years. My mom and my sister are doing some volunteer work with Sophia’s Heart. So obviously, I was keeping tabs on Danny and the organization. And he just hit me up and was like, hey, do you want to be a part of this cruise? And I was like, yeah. It was that simple. There wasn’t really anything to think about.
Kris Allen: I’ve known Danny since Idol. And he called me up and asked me. And it was hard to say no. And that’s something that’s very cool. And I really appreciate that he’s taking the time and I respect what he does with this whole thing. And I want to help in any way that I can.
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What can people expect from the cruise?
Danny Gokey: The cruise really ends up being a really, really good time. And a lot of great music, a lot of great destination sites, a lot of great interaction with the artists. I guess that’s the best I can describe it. It’s great interaction, great music, great fun and great destinations to explore. It’s a cruise, so go!
Jamar, for those who have seen you on TV, you also have a story that people can relate to. What in your life have you brought forth that has a connection with what the foundation is trying to accomplish?
Jamar Rogers: This previous summer, most of the work that I’ve done has been for a lot of charitable organizations. And my mantra has been since I’ve done The Voice that I really didn’t do it to make the name of Jamar Rogers great. I’m a little too old to be trying to pop into pop music. So I felt like I needed to use my name and my pool and recognition to at least bring awareness to things that people really aren’t paying attention to. And so with Sophia’s Heart, there’s not a lot of light that is shed on people that are coming out of human trafficking. And really, people don’t really think about homeless families all that much.
Kris, do you feel like you have a connection to Sophia’s Heart now based on anything that’s happened in your life or even the charity work that you’ve done before?
Kris Allen: [Charitable work has] always been a part of who I am and want to be. And the mentors that I’ve had in my life, they’ve really impressed upon my life and asked me to do it. And just knowing Danny throughout the show and getting to know him really well, he just really cares. And it’s something he wanted to happen. It’s very cool to be a part of and to help people. He’s not thinking about himself here, so any way that I can help and be a part of it.
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Cee Lo Green said to Jamar on The Voice, “You’re such a survivor. Your story is such an empowering, encouraging, triumphant victory of life and perseverance and sacrifice, dedication and commitment. We can’t help but all be inspired by it.” Is that what you all hope to get out of Sophia’s Heart and this cruise, that you can see those who have struggled be able to rise up and create better lives for themselves?
Jamar Rogers: Absolutely. You have to understand, when we’re on this cruise, obviously we’re not going to have first-hand experience with the families that are being helped by Sophia’s Heart. But what I am hoping is after this cruise, I can take several trips to Nashville and just see first-hand what my work contributed to. Again, I have friends and family that work with Sophia’s Heart, so I hear stories all the time about basically people’s lives being revolutionized and changed. And I really respect the cause. People are going to go on vacation anyway, so the money might as well go to something that really matters.
Kris Allen: We’re doing this for Danny, but also for the foundation. And it’s such a great thing. We hope we can make a mark on that … and make a difference in that, and let them know that the world is theirs. So I hope that people get involved and check it out.
Danny Gokey: The thing that I appreciate about Jamar and I appreciate about Kris is that they’ve been supporters from the beginning. When I was on the show, Kris was able to make donations … and it was really helpful. And for Jamar, the good thing about Jamar, I’ve known him for such a long time now anyway, and Jamar has been a great friend. But his family is pouring their heart and their soul into this organization. And I can’t wait for you guys to come see it.
And I love how they put it. It’s not about me, and it’s much bigger than me. It’s about the cause at hand. And I think the awareness, the light and the finances that are going to shine on this is going to make such a big difference. And I’m so excited. And I can’t wait to get the fans excited because each year it gets bigger and better.
The Third Annual Cruise for Sophia’s Heart sets sail from February 25-28, 2013, on the Carnival Sensation, and the ship will depart from Port Canaveral, Florida, heading to the Bahamas. If you want to book a spot on the cruise, visit the Sophia’s Heart foundation website or call 1-888-644-4349.
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(Images courtesy of RCA and Vincent Sandoval Photography)