The Transcript Bulletin introduced Kodi Lee to Tooele County in a Hometown story in 2008. This week, Lee was introduced to the world with a golden buzzer singing and piano performance on television’s “America’s Got Talent.”
On Tuesday night about 30 of Lee’s friends and former neighbors from Tooele met at Bonneville Brewery to hold a premiere party for America’s Got Talent’s 14th season.
Listening to Lee sing and play the piano, it’s hard to remember that he was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and is legally blind. He was also diagnosed with autism six months after turning three.
Back in 2008, 11-year old Lee had already been performing for five years, including an opportunity to perform with two members of the Temptations and an impromptu performance with an a cappella group at Disneyland during a family vacation .
Originally from California, Lee attended Copper Canyon Elementary and Stansbury High schools while living in Tooele. He lived here for about six years before his family returned to California.
Lee was the lead in a local band called “Kodi and the Chillbodi’s.” The group performed in Long Beach, California, at the Festival of Human Abilities, and locally at the Benson Gristmill and the Utah State Fair.
One of Lee’s Tooele friends at the party was Jesse Verdi. Verdi was friends with the Lees in California. The Lees followed Verdi to Tooele.
“I’ve known Kodi since he was born,” Verdi said. “I used to play a little guitar. When Kodi was about five years old, I would play and he would tell me I was off, either sharp or flat. I could play good enough for regular people to enjoy, but Kodi had perfect pitch.”
“Kodi used to soothe himself with music,” said Reina Hansen, another one of Lee’s Tooele friends. “He’s had some lessons, but he can play anything after listening to it once.”
According to Kodi Lee’s website, the 22-year-old singer, pianist and tap dancer is one of approximately 25 autistic musical prodigious savants in the world today.
Lee’s gift includes musical expression, perfect pitch, and passion for all forms of music.
He performs in California at local restaurants, pubs, wineries and musical events with a repertoire that includes rock, jazz, rhythm and blues, pop, and classical music.
Music has been a form of therapy and motivation for Lee.
His parents helped him to learn to socialize with the crowd after his performances.
“I never knew being the mother of an autistic child took so much work,” said Hiedie Shields, a former neighbor of the Lees in Tooele. “All Kodi wants to do is play music. It’s what he lives for. His mother has worked hard and sacrificed to give him opportunities to perform.”
During the pre-recorded “America’s Got Talent” episode that aired Tuesday night, Lee was the final performer.
He received a standing ovation for his performance on the piano and signing “A Song for You,” by Leon Russell.
Lee’s mother, Tina, came out on stage after the performance to support her son, while each judge praised Lee’s performance.
“I know everybody needs a voice, an expression,” said judge Julianne Hough. “I really feel your heart, your passion, and your voice blew all of us away. I just want to say I heard you and I felt you and it was beautiful.”
“What happened there was extraordinary,” said judge Simon Cowell. “I mean really extraordinary.”
Gabrielle Union, AGT judge, explained that she was a new judge this season as well as a new mother.
“You just want to give your kids the moon the stars and the rainbows. I want to give you something special,” said Union as she reached out and pressed the golden buzzer.
The golden buzzer means Lee will advance directly to the live “America’s Got Talent Show,” in Hollywood, skipping judging and future competitions.