American Idol Star Talks DI and the Importance of Creativity

By: Tina Shaffer

At 14 years old, I participated in my first Destination Imagination Global Finals, and my life was forever changed. I grew up in a town of 3,500 people in Prescott, Arkansas, and Destination Imagination opened my eyes to a much bigger world: a magical place where creativity was king and duct tape dresses were all the rage. Being able to meet people from across the globe and create in an open atmosphere fed my dreams and increased the vision for my life. 
Last year I was a Top 20 female finalist on “American Idol” Season 12 and named the “happiest contestant” by the judges. With “American Idol,” I was catapulted into some new beginnings. I had never sung for 18 million people “live” before, and it was an incredible experience! Working with Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Keith Urban, and Nikki Minaj was also extraordinary; they are all so talented. My performance of “Nothing But the Water” was ranked in Billboard Magazine as one of the Top 12 performances of the entire season. Needless to say, the experience was a blessing that opened many doors.
Since then, I have appeared on ABC’s “Nashville.” I have opened for Tracy Byrd, Joe Nichols, and Chris Cagle. In addition, I was a featured performer alongside Brett Michaels, Justin Moore, Julie Roberts, and Frank Foster. Karen Kingsbury, "New York Times" and "USA TODAY" best-selling author, selected me to act in her most recent book trailer “15 Minutes.” The book is currently being promoted and the trailer is being shown nationwide! God is so good.
Currently, I live in Nashville, Tennessee and am writing and recording a debut EP with Grammy winning producer Drew Ramsey. I serve on the worship team at Nashville Life Church and also enjoy traveling, singing, speaking, and sharing Fingerprints, a character development program I created. 
One of my fondest memories of Global Finals is trading state pins; each year, it was my favorite activity! I remember yelling out to people 100 feet away, “Hi, I’m Rachel, and I’m from Arkansas! Where are you from?” I was determined to get a pin from every state and every country, and I was not leaving Global Finals until I did. I guess in that sense, Destination Imagination prepared me for what I do today. I graduated from Belmont University with a degree in songwriting, and as a songwriter, I co-write about 90 percent of the time. When co-writing, I often find myself in a studio with someone whom I have never met, and we are expected to write a song in a matter of hours. One may ask, how is this possible? First, the two of us find common ground, then, we share stories, and before long, we leave with something neither of us had before: a song. I find this to be a lot like trading state pins at Global Finals; however, instead of leaving with a new song, you get a new pin!  
Looking back, I never felt that Destination Imagination “forced me out” of my comfort zone; instead, it gave me a space to THRIVE in what I loved doing most: being creative.  The first time I participated in a Challenge, I felt like a bird that had just learned to fly, and I was free to soar as high as my wings would take me. I found there was no end to where I could go, what I could do, or who I could become. There was so much freedom in “thinking outside of the box,” and I realized then, I never wanted to go back inside of it. 
I have found that if you let it, society will attempt to put you in a box; however it is so important to maintain your “outside of the box” thinking. In order to encourage others to maintain this mindset, I started a motivational program called Fingerprints. Fingerprints is a character development program empowering students to embrace their unique purpose, develop their potential, and leave their mark on the world. I sing, speak, and encourage students of all ages; I travel to schools, colleges, churches, youth groups, and other organizations.   
Fingerprints was birthed from my experience on “American Idol.” While “American Idol” was an incredible experience, it was also a time where I had to “break the mold.” I sing and write Christian Music, but because I am from southwest Arkansas, my music sounds like a mix of Christian and Country music. Behind the scenes of “American Idol,” I frequently felt pressured to conform; I was often told I could not be both a Christian and Country singer. However, that is exactly what I am doing. No one has to conform to a stereotype; we each have a unique purpose unlike anyone else, and we are meant to realize that potential in order to leave our mark on the world.
Understanding one’s originality is vital to success. There were also times on “American Idol” when I felt insecure in who I was. Once, I remember staring around the room at other contestants thinking, “I like her hair. I wish I could hit that note. I wish I could sing that vocal run. I wish I had her clothes.” Before I knew it, I was comparing myself to others and thus, became overcome with self-doubt. Thankfully, I had great parents and a pastor who reminded me that I was unique, and God had a distinct purpose for me; I was able to walk in that understanding before comparison got the best of me. Ultimately, I was able to succeed because I took ownership of my originality. 
I know I would not be where I am today had it not been for Destination Imagination. Destination Imagination gave me room to learn about myself. To this day, I have found that anytime I create, I discover another part of who I am. When one creates, they draw from things they have seen, dreamed, or experienced. Thus, as we continue creating, we develop a deeper understanding of who we are. I am so grateful for my experience at Destination Imagination, and I am so excited to perform at Global Finals this year! I am thrilled to meet and share my music with everyone. There is no family like a DI family, and I cannot wait to fall back into the support of its loving arms. 
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