One of the most-watched reality television programs is the hugely popular “America’s Got Talent.” Each episode features several contestants who try to impress a panel of judges with their singing, dancing, comedy or other talent.
Each year, the TV show introduces performers who stun the audience and judges with their talent and inspiring stories about overcoming incredible challenges. It is these special moments that have helped keep “America’s Got Talent” on the air for more than a decade.
The first episode of season 14 premiered May 28 and included one of those inspiring stories, the performance of pianist and singer Kodi Lee. The 22-year-old contestant’s routine was met with a standing ovation, tears from judges and the elusive “golden buzzer” that gives a contestant a direct pass to the live TV finals.
What was it about Lee that captured the hearts of all who watched him perform Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You?” Lee is blind and has autism. Introducing her son to the judges, Lee’s mother, Tina, explained, “We found out that he loved music really early on. He listened, and his eyes just went huge. He started singing and I was in tears. That’s when I realized he’s an entertainer.”
“Through music and performing, he was able to withstand living in this world, because when you’re autistic, it’s really hard to do what everybody else does,” she continued. “It actually has saved his life playing music.”
It was obvious by the uncomfortable reaction of the judges — as Lee, bobbing his head back and forth, told them, “I’m going to sing for you on the piano” — that doubt filled their minds. “How could someone with obvious physical and developmental disabilities entertain a national audience?” seemed to be their collective response.
Yet, Lee did, indeed, entertain.
According to his promotional website, kodileerocks.com, Lee was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and survived a life-saving surgery at 5 days old. He was diagnosed with autism when he was 4.
Lee’s story affirms the belief that all life is sacred, even the lives of those born with disabilities. His story also should signal a caution for the practice of prenatal screening tests.
While these tests can help parents allay fears during pregnancies, they can also encourage the termination of a pregnancy.
According to Mayo Clinic, there are two types of prenatal testing: screening tests that can identify whether a baby may have birth defects, and diagnostic testing, which is a follow-up to the screening test and carries a slight risk of miscarriage.
In its online “questions to consider” section, Mayo Clinic states that screenings are optional.
“It’s important to make an informed decision about prenatal testing, especially if you’re screening for fetal conditions that can’t be treated,” it states. The first question to consider is, “What will you do with the test results?”
“Normal results can ease your anxiety,” the Mayo Clinic says. “However, if prenatal testing indicates that your baby might have a birth defect, you could be faced with wrenching decisions — such as whether to continue the pregnancy.”
A recent report from Iceland indicated that after prenatal screening tests were introduced in the early 2000s, nearly 100 percent of the 80 to 85 percent of women who took the test and tested positive for Down syndrome chose to abort their pregnancy.
God, the author of life, can surprise us, as he did with Kodi Lee. Despite his “imperfect” development, Lee moved an audience to tears with his talent. How many Lees have lost their opportunity to do the same?
This editorial first appeared in the online edition of The Compass, the newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis.