Although he largely stuck to gospel and soul music during his time on American Idol in 2009, Danny Gokey transformed himself into a charting country artist with his solo debut, My Best Days, the following year. The conversion was short-lived, however, and he embraced a soulful Christian pop beginning with his second album, 2014's Hope in Front of Me, which reached number one on the Billboard Christian chart. He topped the chart again with his fifth studio LP, the Grammy-nominated Rise, in 2017.
Born on April 24, 1980 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Daniel Jay Gokey was raised in a large family and began singing during weekly church services. His interest in religion and music continued to shape his adolescence, and he became the music director of Faith Builders International Ministries during his mid-twenties. Meanwhile, he married his high school sweetheart, a fellow church-going music fan named Sophia Martinez, and lived with her for four years.
In 2008, Martinez underwent surgery for congenital heart disease and died during the operation. An enthusiastic fan of American Idol, she had asked Gokey to audition for the show on several occasions. He ultimately auditioned that summer — a mere four weeks after her passing — and became one of the eighth season's early frontrunners, sailing through each round with his gruff, soulful vocals and tear-jerking backstory. Gokey ultimately finished third in the competition, with only Adam Lambert and Kris Allen receiving more votes.
The American Idols LIVE! Tour kept him busy until September 2009, at which point he signed with 19 Recordings (in conjunction with RCA Nashville) and set to work on a country album. His first single, "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me," peaked at number 29 on the country chart, and he rang in the New Year by releasing a full-length record, My Best Days, in early 2010. Well-received, the album peaked at number three on the Billboard Country Albums chart. He opened a handful of dates on Taylor Swift's Speak Now World Tour in 2011, and, parting ways with RCA Nashville, self-released the limited-edition Love Again EP through his website in 2012. That year, he also married Leyicet Peralta, and they welcomed their first child in 2013.
In October 2013, NavPress published Gokey's memoir, Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments, which he co-authored with Ben Stroup. Committing thereafter to inspirational music, his sophomore album, Hope in Front of Me, arrived via BMG in 2014. Buoyed by the single "More Than You Think I Am," it debuted at number one on the Billboard Christian Albums chart. A year later, he delivered the number one holiday album Christmas Is Here, which he followed in 2016 with La Esperanza Frente a Mi, a Spanish-language version of Hope in Front of Me. Gokey returned with his fifth full-length studio album, Rise, in 2017. It included guest appearances from fellow American Idol alum Jordin Sparks and vocalist Kierra Sheard. The record debuted at number one on the Billboard Christian Albums chart and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
"The Prayer," a collaborative single with Natalie Grant, appeared in 2018. Gokey followed it early the next year with the Christian Top Five single "Haven't Seen It Yet." An album by the same name saw release by Sparrow in April 2019. It reached number two on the Christian chart. ~ Andrew Leahey