MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 17th. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we’re so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next, Christians and reality TV.
The Voice is a popular singing competition on NBC. Each year, it attracts thousands of young, hopeful vocalists looking for their big break. But this year, the Season 18 winner didn’t fit the typical mold.
WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg has his story.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Todd Tilghman is many things. He’s the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Meridian, Mississippi.
TILGHMAN PREACHING: Let’s pray. Father, we love you so much Lord….
He’s a husband of more than 20 years to his high-school sweetheart, Brooke.
TILGHMAN: I was 19 I believe when I asked her to marry me. And we ended up getting married when I was 20, and she was 18.
The father of eight children.
TILGHMAN: It’s Egan, Asher, Shepherd, Judah, Olive, Hosea, Louis, Wilhemina. We call her Winnie…
And since Todd Tilghman was a little boy, he’s been singing in church.
TILGHMAN: I’ve been worship pastor since I was 16.
MUSIC: [Tilghman singing]
But Tilghman mostly confined his music to within church walls.
TILGHMAN: I’ve always loved to sing… but I never thought it was good enough that people would want to hear it.
After years in ministry, Tilghman began feeling an itch for change. He wondered if God wanted him to try something new.
TILGHMAN: Something inside me back then was like, Todd, you got to do something different… I looked into, like real estate.
Last year, Tilghman began posting short clips of himself singing hymns on Instagram. A friend reached out and encouraged him to audition for The Voice. He signed up for try-outs in Atlanta, but almost didn’t go.
TILGHMAN: I just really felt like they would tell me no, and they would go with someone different or someone younger, someone more beautiful, you know, and that or a better singer.
But his family insisted. When Tilghman got his turn in front of the show’s casting judges, to his shock, he got his first yes.
TILGHMAN: I got a yes that day. And I just, I don’t know, I kept getting yeses.
After several more auditions, Tilghman and 40 other contestants made it to the televised competition in Los Angeles.
The first televised round is called the “Blind Audition.” That’s where the show’s four celebrity judges turn their red, high-backed chairs away from the stage. They can’t see who’s singing. They just listen.
If judges like what they hear, they turn around. If no one does, the contestant goes home.
It’s a nerve wracking wait for the singer. But when Todd Tilghman took the stage in blue jeans, a T-shirt, and glasses, he didn’t have to wait long.
TILGHMAN SINGING: I know it’s late. I know you’re weary. I know your plans don’t include me.
SOUND: JUDGES HITTING THEIR BUTTONS TO TURN. (CHEERING)
Three judges turned their chairs just 10 seconds into his song. And then the fourth judge turned too.
TILGHMAN: I remember a feeling of like euphoria like, okay, let’s just do it now…
Tilghman says he worried how he’d be portrayed on the show. Not a whole lot of pastors compete on reality TV. He shared his concerns with producers.
TILGHMAN: I said number one, I don’t want to be a religious zealot. I just love you. And I think God loves you. Number two, I really don’t want you guys to make me out to be like this fairy tale family because it really is not.
Tilgman felt overall the show was pretty fair.
TILGHMAN: I do feel like our family came off a little fairytale-ish, but that’s OK.
After the first couple rounds of competition, the coronavirus sent The Voice contestants and judges home. Instead of calling off the competition, producers decided to put together a remote show.
TILGHMAN: They sent us a tablet, they sent us a camera, they sent us lighting, microphone in ears, all these things they sent…
With eight kids at home, Tilghman decided the best place he could practice and sing was his church.
TILGHMAN: Literally, my life came full circle on The Voice. I’m standing in the same room almost in the same exact spot where I married my wife, and I’m singing the “Glory of Love” you know?
MUSIC: [THE GLORY OF LOVE]
TILGHMAN: I stood in the room where like, I started ministry, teaching teenagers, that’s where I sang “Love Me” by Collin Raye.
MUSIC: [LOVE ME]
With his powerful voice and cheerful personality, Tilghman kept sailing through week after week.
Contestants pick their songs with producers and their celebrity vocal coach. Tilghman sang a mix of country and classic pop.
Some Christian viewers wrote Tilghman, frustrated about a song he sang called “We’ve Got Tonight” that had suggestive innuendos. He stands by the song choice.
TILGHMAN: I just put myself in a mindset where, Todd, this is it like this song, this time in your life for you and your wife and your family? This is all you have, you know? And so that’s the mindset I put myself in when I was singing, “We’ve Got Tonight.”
At the finale, Tilghman got a chance to perform a song about his faith. Standing in the center of his church’s stage where he preaches each week, he sang MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine.”
MUSIC: [I CAN ONLY IMAGINE]
The performance brought judge, Kelly Clarkson, to tears.
CLARKSON: I would love to come to your church just to hear you speak. Not only sing. You’re very special.
Later that night, Todd Tilghman became the oldest person ever to win The Voice.
HOST: The Winner of the Voice is: Todd Tilghman. Congratulations!
His reward? A recording contract and $100-thousand dollars. He says the money will go toward buying a van and taking his family to Disney World.
Tilghman doesn’t know what’s next. Music full-time or music and ministry? He can only imagine.
TILGHMAN: I don’t know the specifics of those changes, but I feel like they’ll only expand opportunities to minister, you know, even if it’s in a different capacity.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.