My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 30, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
The thin woman with short-cropped hair and sparkling eyes walks out on stage with a massive smile and says hi to the judges. When they answer, “Hello, how are you,” she replies, “I’m awesome. So happy to be here.”
“What are you going to be singing for us tonight?”
“I’m singing an original song called It’s OK.”
“What is It’s OK about,”
“It’s OK is about the last year of my life.”
The judges continue the interview, asking, “What do you do for a living?”
“I have not been working for quite a few years. I've been dealing with cancer.”
“Can I ask you a question? How are you now?”
“Last time I checked, I had some cancer in my lungs and my spine and the liver.”
“So, you're not OK?
“Well, not in every way, no.”
“You’ve got a beautiful smile and a beautiful glow, and nobody would know.”
“Thank you. It’s important that everyone knows I’m so much more than the bad things that happen to me.”
Jane steps up to the microphone and nervously glances to the side as the audience sits silently, waiting for the performance to begin. When the first piano chord resonates through the concert hall, she smiles and sings, “I moved to California in the summertime. I changed my name, thinking that it would change my mind. I thought that all my problems they would stay behind. I was a stick of dynamite, and it was just a matter of time, yeah.”
By the time she reaches the chorus, singing, “It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay,” the judges and the audience are enchanted by her fantastic voice and the joy that beams from her face as she performs.
When the last note fades away, she steps back from the microphone, and the joy she showed throughout the performance changes to a pensive, contemplative expression. For a moment, the concert hall is deathly silent; then, the audience erupts with applause and a standing ovation.
It was a moment unlike any other on America’s Got Talent. After the applause died out, judge Simon Cowell spoke to the young woman who goes by Nightbirde when she sings. “There was something about that song after the way you just almost casually told us what you're going through.” He stops talking and takes a deep breath, seemingly at a loss for words.
Nightbirde responds to him, “You can’t wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy,” and the audience explodes into applause at her words.
As he wipes away a tear, Simon regains his composure and says, “There have been some great singers this year, and I’m not going to give you a yes.” The audience groans as the expression on Nightbirde’s face goes from a big smile to a tight-lipped sadness. But Simon continues, “I'm going to give you something else,” and he reaches across the judges’ table and triumphantly smashes the golden buzzer.
Golden confetti rains down on Nightbirde as she falls onto the stage in disbelief. Her story, performance, and happiness in the face of adversity had impacted everyone in the room. She would go on to touch people’s lives all over the world. Her song, It’s Ok, reached the number one spot on the iTunes charts, and millions watched the YouTube video of her fantastic performance. Everyone was rooting for Nightbirde in her battle with cancer.
Soon after her America’s Got Talent audition, Nightbirde had to step away from live performances due to her health. "It's so hard for me to not be on the @agt stage for the finals this week," she wrote. "I bet you never saw someone win so hard and lose so hard at the same time. This isn't how the story was supposed to go."
Nightbirde’s battles were now well documented in the media. She honored requests for interviews when she was able. Her positivity and her faith in God always show through. When asked about her faith and music, she answered, “There is no area of my life where my faith is not going to seep into it. It's part of the core of me, so if you listen for it and look for it, then you'll see Jesus all over it. You'll find it there, but I'm not just writing music for people who believe the way that I believe. I think that's ridiculous. I love to make music that brings people joy.”
When asked about her upbeat attitude in the face of such adversity, she answered, “I don't have control, but I do have some power over what happens to me, and a lot of that is my attitude and the thoughts that I allow in my mind. Thoughts are birds that can fly over your head, and I can't do anything about that. But if a bird tries to make a nest in my hair, I can do something about that. The depression and the anxiety will always be flying over my head, but they're not going to land. That's my jurisdiction that I'm the boss of, and that's what I do.”
Nightbirde lost her battle with cancer just a few months later. Her life touched millions of people. She was the embodiment of James 1:2 (NLT). Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
In her song, The Story I’ll Tell, Nightbirde wrote, “The hour is dark, and it's hard to see what You are doing here in the ruins and where this will lead. Oh, but I know that down through the years, I look on this moment and see Your hand on it and know You were here. Oh, my God did not fail. Oh, it's the story I'll tell. Oh, I know it is well. Oh, it's the story I'll tell.”
Gentle Reader, Nighbirde’s story inspires me to be a better person. It inspires me to praise God even in the dark hours of life. In one of her last social media posts, she said, “Just because you're sad or grieving doesn't mean that you're not grateful, and it doesn't mean you're not hopeful. Be sad and be grateful. And look at the twinkly lights and feel your feelings, and it's all real -- the joy and the pain -- is all real, and you don't have to pick one or the other like, it’s beautiful, or life is garbage. It's kind of both sometimes.” “Crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalms 30:5 (NCV)
You can watch Nightbirde's Golden Buzzer performance on America's Got Talent here: