From cooking shows to dancing to singing, Latter-day Saints are making an impact on reality TV. No doubt these shows are fun to watch, but there are also many emotional, touching stories behind some of these Latter-day Saint performers who shared their raw talents and faith. So bring out those tissue boxes and let's get started:
1. America’s Got Talent—Evie Clair
One cannot relive emotional moments on reality TV without bringing up America’s Got Talent’s Evie Clair. Before her audition in 2017, Evie Clair told the audience why she was singing that night.
"My dad was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and they gave him a five percent chance to live, and he still continued working and supporting our family,” she said through tears. “So tonight, I'm here to sing for him."
She blew the audience away with her sweet rendition of “Arms.” She explained that she sings it to her dad to “help him feel better and just to give him comfort and strength to continue fighting."
Her dad continued to battle cancer throughout Evie Clair’s time on the show. Evie Clair has made many performance tributes to her father. She even teamed up with Spencer Jones and recorded a version of “Eye of the Tiger” in honor of her dad, as he would listen to the song as a wrestler in high school before a big match.
Evie Clair’s dad passed away while she was still on the show. Not too long after, Evie Clair sang a beautiful finale tribute as she made it into the top 10 of America's Got Talent with “What a Wonderful World.”
Before her performance, Evie Clair spoke about what her family means to her: “The happiest memories are my family gathered around the piano singing together. Music brought love and brought us closer together, even through the hardest times. My dad was one of the bravest people I knew. He always taught us to follow our dreams.”
She continues, “My dad taught me after I started something to always finish it. That’s why I’m fighting to the end, just like he did.”
2. American Idol—Johanna and Matt
When Johanna Jones began her performance for the American Idol judges at Hollywood Week earlier this year, she didn’t expect to get a marriage proposal out of it. During an interview before her performance, she shared through tears how much she wished her boyfriend Matt could be there with her.
“This is the most important performance of my life, and if I could call him and tell him that I got a yes, I just know he’d be so happy and so proud of me,” she smiled, teary-eyed.
Matt, at the time, completed all his finals in a day and drove from BYU to California so he could make it to Johanna’s performance. He had contacted the show's producers so everything was in place so he could pop the big question after her performance.
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After Johanna finished singing, he ran onstage and asked, "Johanna, you're the love of my life; will you marry me?" Johanna said yes, sobbing with joy. The moment was so chockfull of emotions, it stirred up the show’s judges, including Katy Perry who sat down near the judge's table and cried.
All three of the judges went up onstage and embraced the couple after their happy moment.
“I took six exams yesterday. I drove 11 hours this morning just to get here,” Matt said.
“Matt is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. No matter what happens, I’m going to go home smiling tonight,” said Johanna.
3. World of Dance—Jaxon Willard
Jaxon Willard competed onWorld of Dance in 2018. During his emotional contemporary dance routines, Jaxon expressed suppressed feelings he held about his adoption, particularly concerning his birth mother. During one of his first interviews of the season, Willard broke down and told the interviewer, “I miss my birth mom and my siblings.” But then the interviewer asked Jaxon a question: “Jax, do you understand though that you would not be where you are, being able to do what you do, without this mom?” The interviewer continued, “You wouldn’t be here without this mom. You wouldn’t be here without this family and the big picture is you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”
The process of overcoming this challenge in Jaxon’s life, his adopted mom said, was really hard. But she remembers telling him, "God gave you this talent because you put all your emotion into it. Not everybody gets a way to express it. They have to either figure out how to talk about it or they just let it go and they make stupid choices trying to get rid of the pain. God gave you that gift because he knew you were going to have some hard things to go through."
On August 8, 2018, Jaxon gave one of his most meaningful performances on World of Dance.
“It’s about my feelings towards my birth mom and how I was angry and I felt abandoned by her,” Jaxon explained to the show’s judges regarding his dance. “But then I didn’t know how to share these feelings with the mom I have now because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, and so I’d just suppress all these feelings. But then, throughout my journey and my growing, I would just learn that I can’t just be mad at my birth mom because I don’t know the full story, and so I just have to be grateful that I have the family I have now, and I’m just so thankful for that.”
4. America Ninja Warrior—Michael and Enedina Stanger
Photo from Entertainment Weekly
Michael Stanger didn't get fit to compete on American Ninja Warrior in 2015, he became stronger so he could carry his wife. Two years before his time on the show, Stanger's wife, Enedina, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that causes joints in the body to dislocate. Within two years, Stanger lost 35 pounds and built muscle so he could help his wife, a journey that eventually led him to compete on America Ninja Warrior. Enedina supported her husband, watching him compete from her wheelchair.
What makes this story even sweeter is years later, after working to build her own strength, Enedina competed for herself on America Ninja Warrior in 2018. It was an emotional night when Enedina showcased her awesome fitness skills at the Minneapolis City Qualifiers. Her husband, now watching Enedina from the sidelines, along with a crowd of people, cheered her on as she pushed her body to its limits on that course.
Enedina told America Ninja Warrior, “It doesn’t matter what obstacle you’re facing. It doesn’t matter what hardship you have. There’s a way to go through it, go around it, to work with it, and to be a stronger person because of it.”
5. The Voice—Dave and Claire Crosby
When Dave Crosby auditioned as a guitar/singing soloist on The Voice in 2017, Adam Levine was quick to turn his chair, following co-judges Miley Cyrus and Blake Shelton.
But what makes this moment even more amazing was when Dave Crosby shared his story about his relationship with his daughter and Youtube sensation Claire Crosby, who had been backstage jumping up and down excitedly watching her dad perform.
“I had kind of given up on music about four years ago when I held my little daughter for the first time,” Dave said after his performance. "And turns out, she turned out to be just an incredible little singer for a 4-year-old and she made a couple viral videos.”
After the judges realized who he was, they called out Claire, who ran on stage and jumped into her dad’s arms. The Crosby father/daughter duo performed their classic “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” with dad on guitar and Claire’s crisp little voice on vocals.
And if that didn’t make us bring out the tissues, even a few of the judges reflected on their own personal family moments.
"When I had my baby girl, that was one of the most amazing moments of my life," Levine said. "And someone sent me that video, and I lost it. I'm so happy you realized that you should never have given up on this because if you had given up on this, that never would have happened. What a beautiful thing.”
6. Long Lost Family—Gusty and Teri Graham
When covering touching TV moments, let’s not forget the moment the Graham and Hess family reunited on an episode of TLC’s Long Lost Family. Gusty and Teri Graham put their son up for adoption through LDS Services because they felt they were too young to be parents. They felt it was the right choice and kept communication with their son until the letters they had been receiving stopped completely. The Grahams looked into every possible avenue to find their son, with no luck. But they never gave up hope.
“We just always hoped that he would eventually want to meet us," Teri says.
Image from TLC's Long Lost Family
It was later, through Instagram, a TLC scout invited the family to be on the show Long Lost Family on TLC. People working on the show found the Graham's long-lost son, Devin, and not only that, but they learned he wanted to meet his birthparents.
It was a joyful reunion. “When we first saw Devin, I think we both felt like it wasn't real. We had hoped and prayed for that day, but, as birth parents, you never know if it will happen. We just kept hugging him and wanting to make sure it wasn't a dream. It was wonderful!” Teri said.
“It means so much to have been reunited with Devin! We never have to spend another birthday or holiday wondering where he is or what he is doing,” Teri said. “The peace that brings is indescribable.”
7. So You Think You Can Dance —The Sosa Siblings
Photo courtesy of the Sosa Family
Not only did Latter-day Saint dancer Tristan Sosa join his sister, Stephanie, on the 15th season of So You Think You Can Dance, but their younger brother, Ezra, also joined her in the very next season in 2019. The siblings spoke with LDS Living about how they lived their standards while on reality TV by praying together as well as the hardships the family experienced together.
Right before leaving the show after making it into the top 20, Stephanie shared her testimony of being a daughter of God. “If you [feel you] are not skinny enough, if you are not pretty enough, you are. And God has a purpose. And He loves you,” she said.
This testimony stems from the faith and prayer that sustained the Sosa family through several medical emergencies. One day after Tristan was cut from the show in 2018, he suddenly stopped breathing and had to be taken to the emergency room.
“They found 12 blood clots in his lungs. Not one, 12,” said his father, Enrique Sosa.
While the family came together to help pay the medical bills, the siblings' mother, Lucy, suffered a stroke. With the help of prayer, fasting, and priesthood blessings, the Sosa family made it through the difficulties together.
Together they shared their experience on one of the show’s segments “The Power of Family,” which can be seen below.