Free to be Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly
Tori Kelly sings the National Anthem before the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl in January 2020 in Florida. (Photo Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Tori Kelly is a singer, songwriter, actress, record producer and a two-time Grammy award winner. She has collaborated with famous artists such as Ed Sheeran, Lecrae and Amy Grant. However, her path to fame has not been an easy one. Recently, she shared the personal struggles she has dealt with and how her faith has helped her through.

Tori was 12 years old when she was signed to a record label. "I felt like I had the world promised to me," she says. "People all around me all the time would say things like, 'Oh, you're such an amazing singer,' and that became my identity in a lot of ways."

But when someone else took over management of the record label, Tori was cut from the deal because "they didn't really believe in me in the same way."

"After that, every executive that I talked to would have some reason why they didn't want to sign me," Tori talks about the pressure on her to be someone that she was not. "You're so reserved, you're too shy, quiet, loosen up a little bit. They wanted me to have this outgoing, bubbly personality which I didn't have. I really started comparing myself to other people."

Tori auditioned for American Idol but did not make the cut. "I was so devastated," she says.

Tori's story can be seen in a video on YouTube where she talks about being raised in a Christian home. "I committed my life to Jesus at the age of five but I've gone through seasons of thinking I'd be happier if I let other things rule my life," she admits. "As I've gotten older I've realised God's steadfast love is better than life and nothing can fulfil me more."

After failing on American Idol, Tori turned to journaling and prayer as a way to release her emotions. One of her prayers reads: "Lord, guide me, I don't know who I am without singing. If I'm not a singer and if this doesn't work out, what am I, what am I going to do?"

In those quiet moments, Tori leaned on God more than ever. "Finally, I just said, 'Okay, God you said you have a plan for my life, so I'm just going to trust that and even if it means that I don't get famous or anything I'm just going to surrender all of this to you and put it in your hands.' "

Tori Kelly in New York
Tori Kelly in New York City in 2019.
(Photo Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Once she did this, doors started to open. She began writing her own songs and uploading them onto YouTube. Her compositions went viral and snagged more than a million listeners. Before she knew it, she was signed to another record label and put out a full-length album.

"Daytime TV, morning shows, sold-out tours ... it was a dream come true," she smiles. "I'm so glad I didn't compromise who I am, how I dressed, or my beliefs, because now I get to stand on stage and I literally get to be myself."

Tori has reached heights of success in her career, but says she might not be where she is today had it not been for the low times in her life. "In my worst times I felt really lonely," she explains. "Fear of letting people down got the best of me and it got exhausting trying to live up to the image I created in my mind.

"I would take every opportunity to present myself as having it all together but then Jesus would meet me right there," she continues. "To think that such a big God would care about little old me and want to simply just spend time with me blew me away. I'm now able to spend less time thinking about myself and more time thinking about how I can share His love with other people."

Tori has this advice for other girls battling doubt and insecurity. "That little girl who feels she's too shy, or not bubbly enough, or doesn't have the right look, or isn't pretty enough, or that her life is boring, or that she's boring, is believing a lie," she says. She urges them to believe God can build them into the women He wants them to be and not to compare themselves to anybody.

Philippians 3:7-8 is a Bible passage Tori treasures. "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ."

"I think the goal is to really look at my life and say, 'Okay, if all of this went away, would I still be okay with just Jesus and all of the things that He offers?' I would say yes. I would be okay because He's everything. Through Christ, I can just be myself and just be surrounded by His love."

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