Todd Tilghman is a pastor from Mississippi and a father of eight. Since Tuesday, he’s also the winner of the 18th season of The Voice after moving the judges and the audience to tears by singing I can only imagine by MercyMe. “It’s just been one miracle after the other,” said Tilghman.
Today called him “one of the unlikeliest reality show winners in history.” The 43-year old became the oldest person to ever win on the show. Many previous winners of The Voice had held record deals or had performed in bands, but Tilghman’s only singing experience was at church.
“The Voice could change everything for me. Right now, I only sing at church. I don’t perform or record,” Tilghman said in the early weeks of the show, reported by The Washington Post. “To be able to support my family strictly through music would be a dream.”
Tilghman works as the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Meridian and takes care of eight children at home. In the midst of all this, he took the leap and auditioned for The Voice. He wasn’t sure about it at first. He thought, “there will be thousands and thousands of people there and I will drive back with a no and be upset about it,” told Tilghman to WLBT.
But his wife urged him to drive to Atlanta for the open auditions. “I am really thankful that she believed in me in a place in my life where I didn’t even realize that I had sort of stopped believing in myself,” Tilghman said.
His vocal talents were quickly recognized by the judges. All four of them hit their buttons to get a chance at coaching Tilghman. “When the first chairs turned it was a rush of relief.”
The pastor picked country music star Blake Shelton as his coach. ”Working with Blake has been so encouraging and a ton of fun,”, he told WLBT. “I never imagined it would be like this, honest to God, it has been very humbling.”
His upbeat personality and dry sense of humor about his family life quickly won the hearts of the coaches and viewers. In the finale, he sang I Can Only Imagine by MercyMe, which brought judge Kelly Clarkson to tears.
“You’re so moving, and it’s because you’re a pastor,” said Clarkson, reported by Christian Headlines. “It’s because you have such a bigger belief inside of you than just yourself. I would love to come to your church to hear you speak… You’re very special.”
Tilghman told PEOPLE that he was in “dad mode” during the finale, trying to prepare his kids for whatever happened.
“I wanted to try to prepare my children,” he said. “I was excited at the possibility, but I also was trying to make sure that my younger kids were prepared for the moment when they announced someone else’s name and just that that’s a win for us still.”
Due to the quarantine measures, the final weeks of the series were filmed in the contestant’s hometowns. The finale was also aired remotely. This didn’t keep the Tilghman family from celebrating. “We had a victory cake someone gave us just in case,” he told PEOPLE. “We were going to eat it regardless, whatever place we came in.”
He expressed his joy and surprise when he was announced as the winner. “I still cannot believe it,” he said in a Facebook Live video. “I still don’t think I’ve wrapped my mind around the fact that I was even on The Voice.” He also encouraged his fans to go on the social media accounts of the other finalists and “build them up.” He called them “phenomenal.”
The pastor did not only win a recording contract, but also a $100,000 cash prize. Tilghman told PEOPLE that his wife, Brooke, had promised the kids they would go to Disney World if he won. “We’re going to have to figure out this Disney thing because of my wife and her mouth,” Tilghman said, laughing.
Tilghman keeps his family at the forefront of his mind when he thinks about his future. “I want to be successful in this, but not for myself,” he told PEOPLE. “I want to be successful in this for my family, but I don’t want to sacrifice my family to successful for my family. There’s got to be a balance in there somewhere.”