For Grammy-winning artist Tori Kelly, faith isn’t something that she practices just on Sundays; it’s a part of her, impacting every project she tackles and reminding her of her God-given identity every step of the way.
“Anyone who knows me personally … [faith is] a part of who I am,” the 28-year-old singer and songwriter told The Christian Post. “I can’t do what I do … and I feel like God, Jesus always comes up at some point. It’s been such a part of my life, in my childhood growing up. But then, at a certain point, it became very personal to me.”
Kelly, who gained fame as a teenager posting videos on YouTube and was a contestant on the ninth season of American Idol, says faith in Christ isn’t just something from her childhood or something that is “in the past.”
“It’s really just because it’s a part of who I am,” the singer said. “It’s not something that I have to force. … It just sort of comes out.”
Throughout her life, Psalm 91:4 has always given her particular comfort and encouragement, she said. The verse reads, “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
“I just love that visual of having a safe place, having this place of refuge when the world is crazy,” she reflected. “Just having that kind of peace to know, ‘OK, I can have this quiet time and it’s just me and God, and I can get my head right and my soul right and then kind of go back out and do my thing.’”
A powerhouse vocalist, Kelly is one of today’s most successful cross-genre artists, collaborating with mainstream singers like Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran and Christian artists like Lecrae and for King & Country. In July, she headlined a massive worship concert with Bieber, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes, Maverick City Music and more.
Kelly is aware of the massive platform she has and has a “soft spot” for the next generation, particularly with the rise of social media. Research suggests that platforms like Facebook and Instagram can be harmful to teens’ body image and well-being.
“It’s already hard enough without social media, dealing with comparisons and just life. … But then the added pressure of the internet and comparing yourself to things that aren’t always even real,” Kelly emphasized. “It’s not always even an accurate picture of real life, and we tend to put our best selves out there first.”
She encouraged her young fans to take time away from social media and ground themselves in Scripture.
“Personally speaking, that has helped me to … make sure I’m grounded in truth, in reminding myself who I am,” the artist, who married basketball player André Murillo in 2018, said. “I’m loved by God; listening to who He says that I am … instead of what the world says, which is very hard to do, and something that I struggle with as well. We’re all in this together. We’re all figuring it out.”
In 2018, she released a gospel album, Hiding Place, with legendary worship artist Kirk Franklin, earning her a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance/Song. The collaboration with the Grammy Award-winning gospel singer, she said, felt “natural” to her.
“That wasn’t something that I even really put much thought into,” the L.A.-based artist described. “It just kind of happened. It was like, ‘This is what I want to sing about. This is what’s going on in my life right now.’ And those songs just kind of poured out. It’s really just a part of me.”
Now, she’s lending her voice to “Sing 2,” the sequel to the 2016 animated musical comedy “Sing,” which opens December 22.
The family-friendly film follows a down-and-out koala theater director who tries to stage a show at the glamorous Crystal Theater with an eclectic group of performers. Kelly reprises her role as Meena, the shy elephant with the big voice who struggles to find her self-confidence.
The film features the talents of Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Bono, Pharrell Williams, Matthew McConaughey and others.
“It is an absolute dream come true; I still can’t believe it,” Kelly said of participating in the film. “When I see my name next to all the other names in this cast, it’s just mind-blowing to me. I felt the same way the first film, too. But getting asked to be a part of the second one, … I get giddy every time I talk about this movie. It’s amazing. And I just love all the characters and the look of the film and the stories. I think they just did a great job.”
But more importantly, Kelly said the film’s themes of community, perseverance and kindness resonated with her. What children watch, she stressed, makes a deep impression on their minds.
“I remember growing up watching kids’ movies and animated films, and I just remember falling in love with the characters,” she shared. “Those movies really had an impact, whether I realized it or not at the time. So, to be a small part of a movie that could potentially impact someone’s life, … the music is, I think, so powerful.”
“The way [filmmakers] intertwine the song choices with the message that they’re trying to get across, and just the overarching theme of following your dreams and doing it not alone, but with the support of your friends and family … there are so many life lessons. And it’s just an honor to be a part of a movie that has all of those elements in it.”
In January, Kelly will release her first children’s picture book, The Curly Girl Blues, incorporating elements of her childhood into the book. She shares lessons she’s learned over the years and encourages readers to embrace their inner — and outer — beauty.
“I didn’t love my hair growing up. I have curly hair,” she said. “I just struggled with embracing it, embracing my individuality and what made me unique and all of those things. And so that’s really the inspiration for this book, is to hopefully inspire other people.”
The book is about “celebrating our inner and outer beauty” and celebrating “beauty around us,” she stated.
“I hope people can get something out of it,” she told CP. “I’ve had so much fun making it. So I hope that people love it as well.”
Watch the trailer for “Sing 2” below.