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Student sings way to contest finale
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South Forsyth High student Kiki Daniel is a finalist in an American Idol-style singing competition. - photo by Jim Dean

 

Stacey Daniel carries her daughter with her wherever she goes.

The self-proclaimed “proud mommy” keeps recordings of her daughter, Kidist “Kiki” Daniel, singing on her phone.

One day, her daughter’s gift opened a door to another one.

Kiki Daniel, a South Forsyth High School sophomore, will sing in The Gift Youth Inspirational Singing Competition 2011 finals for a chance at $20,000 in money and prizes.

The competition for metro Atlanta youth, which has been described as similar to “American Idol,” is open to ages 9 to 15.

“The Gift” will be Kiki Daniel’s first singing competition, though she plans to someday audition for the TV show.

The teenager, who just made the age cutoff, is among the 15 finalists participating in the final sing-off today at The Rialto Center for the Arts.

They advanced from the nearly 500 contestants who sang in one of the three opening audition rounds.

If Kiki Daniel wins, she plans to take her younger sister shopping and put money toward a car that she may be able to soon drive.

Her mother said the contest journey began when she met a man at work who’s active in the music industry.

She played him a recording of her daughter singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Impressed, he later suggested the teen enter “The Gift” singing competition.

When Stacey Daniel picked up an entry form, she noticed the audition was the next day in Conyers.

The following morning, mother and daughter set out from their south Forsyth home for the auditions, where Kiki Daniel was one of five chosen from the crowd.

The turn of events seemed like divine intervention, right down to the audition number of 33, Stacey Daniel said.

“We’re very much spiritually grounded people, and I saw it being a double portion, with God being the number 3,” she said.

“It’s significant too that the competition name is ‘The Gift.’ This truly is a gift because she’s been through a lot.”

Stacey Daniel said her daughter’s gift — her voice — has always been a bright spot through difficult times.

The song she sang for her audition, “I Never Lost My Praise,” reflects her outlook.

Kiki Daniel calls it “her song,” and plans to sing the gospel number again for the final competition. It also stirs good memories of singing in church.

“That was the first song I sang in front of everybody without being nervous,” she said.

Stacey Daniel said the first time her daughter sang in front of a crowd, she hid behind her the whole time.

Kiki Daniel said her mother has helped her open up.

“She would always say that it’s not about you when I’m singing. Mostly when I’m singing, at church, it’s not about me, it’s about God and what people are listening to,” she said. “That would really help me.”

Stacey Daniel first discovered that her daughter had a gift when she overheard her the then 8-year-old singing along to a Regina Bell song.

“At 8 years old, that voice is a little too strong,” Stacey Daniel recalled thinking at the time. “Everybody has always said she sounds older than she is.”

It was the bishop at their church who first showcased Kiki Daniel’s voice during choir, said Shonneka Wright, the music director at New Harvester International Ministries in Dacula.

Wright, who is also a close family friend, joked that after they heard the child sing, she didn’t have a choice about being in the choir.

“God had just started developing her voice, so it was like when she started singing, it was as if she always had a platform,” Wright said. “Her voice was so matured and developed. It was baffling.”

Wright said she can’t teach her much else, but she can give her plenty of opportunities to shine in church.

Kiki Daniel has also advanced quickly in her time with the South Forsyth High chorus.

Wright said the other competitors in this weekend’s contest will have a tough battle for the top spot.

Her church community and many other family friends will be supporting her, as part of the competition is to bring along 35 people.

“We’re really banking on Kiki,” she said. “She has what it takes to get this done.”