17-year-old Shannon O’Hara has captured the attention of millions while performing on American Idol, but the story of her musical inspiration isn’t being widely reported. She has revealed it to local media: the key to her music, she says, is her faith in God.
To secure her current placing in the show’s top 24, she sang a moving version of Katy Perry’s song, “Unconditionally.” It was a bold move considering that Perry sits on the panel of judges for the show’s 16th season. Shannon’s performance not only caused Katy Perry to tear up, but also prompted Perry to call her a “secret spiritual ninja.”
But Shannon’s rendition of the song about unconditional love wasn’t just for the judges’ ears. She performed it to praise God.
“For me, that song is almost like a worship song — it can be taken that way, and that’s how I took it,” Shannon revealed to The Charlotte Observer. “My faith is really important to me, and it’s a big part of my life, so I wanted to do something that I can kind of relate in that sense.”
Perry knew a little of Shannon’s background, however.
“Shannon, you’ve primarily sang in church, correct?” asked Perry, whose own parents are pastors. “I know exactly how it feels to be raised in church.”
Church is exactly where Shannon sings. She doesn’t boast formal musical training except for a couple years of piano lessons (she taught herself guitar). But, as she told the Observer, she sings at church twice a week, leading worship for her youth group on Thursday nights and then on Sunday mornings.
According to Shannon, Perry had a few more words of praise for her – words that weren’t placed in the episode: “You have the hand of God in your voice.”
“She actually said that to me,” Shannon said, “but they didn’t show that whenever they showed me getting judged. I wished they would have shown that.”
But she wasn’t complaining either. After making the top 24, Shannon celebrated on Instagram by thanking God.
“PRAISE THE LORD!!!! I can’t even believe it,” she exclaimed. “Thank you Jesus for this opportunity. HERE I COME!!”
The North Carolina homeschooled teenager calls American Idol a “dream” that she’s had since she was 6-years-old. But she also hinted, in the show, that she’s performing for a “chance for me to bring some hope to my family in this extremely difficult time.”
Shannon was referring to her dad’s health – and her family preparing to sell her childhood home because they can’t afford his medical bills. The Observer had to “coax” her to reveal further details.
“The restaurant he was the manager of shut down a year and a half ago, and not long after that, his health started getting bad,” Shannon said, adding that he as suffered through “multiple surgeries” and a “lot of pain.”
Her hope was that the show might change that.
“My dad worked really hard my entire life until now, so I’m just trying to help my family financially with this opportunity, as well as following my lifelong dream,” she said. “Hopefully, American Idol can bring my family out of our current situation.”
According to later story, her father has vascular disease – and even had a toe amputated.
“It’s taken over six months for the wound to close; it’s been a really slow process,” Shannon added. “For awhile, he was going to wound care and going to the doctor every other day.”
But Shannon’s trust is in God. As she writes in her Twitter bio, “HE is my strength.” Similarly, on Instagram, she regularly posts praise and worship songs, Bible verses, and prayers.
On Easter, she commented on her whole American Idol experience as part of her love story with God.
“As I look back to that day in August where it all began, I can’t believe where I am now,” she typed. “In my weakness, the Lord’s power has been made perfect in my life. He makes me brave. He rose out of the grave that I was supposed to be in!”
“He is the greatest love I have ever known, and my life has been radically changed because of what Jesus did for me,” she added. “May we remember what He did everyday, not just today.”
And, even if she doesn’t win if she doesn’t win American Idol, she says, she plans to pursue her praise of Him.
“I’d really like to go to this ministry school in California,” she said. “That also involves worship and worship-leading – which is music.”