How Kieran Rhodes went from a self-taught Berklee student to receiving a standing ovation on ‘America’s Got Talent’
How Kieran Rhodes went from a self-taught Berklee student to receiving a standing ovation on ‘America’s Got Talent’

How Kieran Rhodes went from a self-taught Berklee student to receiving a standing ovation on ‘America’s Got Talent’

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The original song “Disengage” about his struggles with depression relates to Simon Cowell.

Kieran Rhodes during his audition on America’s Got Talent. Trae Patton/NBC

Kieran Rhodes wowed the celebrity judges on “America’s Got Talent” with his vulnerable original song and powerful vision of success.

But Rhodes didn’t always want to be a musician.

His teenage dream took the form of gliding to home base as a Division 1 baseball player in college. That was until his freshman year of high school, when he made the sudden decision to pursue music.

“Music came from nowhere and I taught myself how to play and write. I suddenly had the desire to become a musician and my life changed completely,” he said.

His vision was driven by the love of Billy Joel, something he discussed in his audition. He even performed a portion of the singer’s “She’s Got a Way” before it was cut and asked to perform the original song.

“I would just lay in bed at night and watch videos of him (Billy Joel) on YouTube… I would be like that is what I wanted to do. I will try and emulate him and learn things myself,” he said.

After some time as an instrumentalist, Rhodes decided to try singing along with the backing piano he was playing.

“I opened my mouth and tried to sing and I realized that I could… which is another thing I’m really grateful for. I didn’t know I had a voice,” he said.

When Rhodes began applying to colleges that matched his musical aspirations, he only applied to one school – Berklee College of Music in Boston.

During his time at Berklee Rhodes made the best of friends and collaborators, cited skills he independently learned from various corners of the internet, and recorded the entire EP in his dorm room when COVID-19 restrictions made it the only place to do it.

One night, unbeknownst to Rhodes, the producers of “America’s Got Talent” saw him perform, and loved it.

“He called me two weeks after the show and he said I surprised him and he needed me on the show. He said he immediately offered me to his executives,” he said.

The audition contained a cover of Billy Joel and the original song “Disengage.”

The song tells the honest story of Rhodes’ own struggle with depression. As he sings a powerful chorus of “someone has to help me, let go” and lyrics like “this is all inside your head, your life is fine, your love is not dead” the audience wipes their eyes, nodding in agreement.

The song even links to celebrity judge Simon Cowell. Cowell said when he started in the music industry he was teased by other kids and that stayed with him as he grew up despite finding success.

“It plays on your mind, you get depressed. But I don’t have the talent you have… I really hope this audition can change your life,” said Cowell.

Rhodes said “Disengage” was the most vulnerable and honest he’s ever done with the original song.

Since her audition aired, Rhodes has received “so, so many” messages from others who have been struggling with their mental health.

“I am surprised that something I write has such a big impact on someone’s life. I’m so glad this song can reach people who have listened to it,” he said.

He said the same on his Twitter account, posting a picture of himself in a baseball uniform at a much younger age alongside a picture of himself on the America’s Got Talent stage.

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