Interview: Michael Ketterer talks music, family, and raising foster care awareness in his AGT journey
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“America’s Got Talent” season 13 contender Michael Ketterer started singing from the age of three while growing up as the son of a music minister in a Baptist church. He frequently sang there with his brothers and sisters and developed a love of performing with his dad’s encouragement.

The Chattanooga, Tennessee native joined a couple of garage bands in high school and his musical confidence swelled during his senior year when the crowd “tripped out” over his talent show performance. At that point, a dream to pursue music was formed that would stick with Michael throughout his 20-year marriage to his wife, Ivey, their mutual decision to move to California in 2014, and their life-changing decision to expand their family beyond their biological daughter to adopt five boys out of foster care.

Today, Michael is a pediatric mental health charge nurse who works in a hospital where he meets and treats kids who have experienced all sorts of devastating trauma and abuse. In this important role, Michael strives to make real, human connections with his patients and seeks to give them hope. Sparking that sort of change in young, troubled lives makes a job wrought with various challenges worthwhile.

“For them to come in in crisis and leave with hope, to leave with the burden they’ve been able to leave in our unit and walk out without that burden or even leave with a plan to know when they walk out our door they’re in a safe place, it’s incredibly rewarding,” Michael told AXS in a recent phone interview.

As a part-time worship leader and artist on Influence Music label, Michael’s broad array of musical influences include legendary rockers like Chris Cornell and Coldplay as well as pop/R&B giants like Justin Timberlake, John Legend and Adele. He’s been a huge fan of “America’s Got Talent” for many years and encouragement from friends prompted him to audition this year.

The humble dad was admittedly nervous when he greeted the AGT judges. He shocked and delighted everyone when he sang a soulful, passionate, and powerful rendition of the Bee Gees’ enduring ballad “To Love Somebody.” The audience jumped to their feet in wild applause when he finished. The crowning, tear-inducing moment came when Simon Cowell finished praising the proud father by saying, “Sometimes actions speak louder than words” and smashed his Golden Buzzer, sending him straight through to the live shows.

Michael’s wife and kids crowded around him in the shower of gold confetti, including his son Rodrigo, who has Cerebral Palsy and was rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair. Michael continues his AGT journey by performing live in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Aug. 28. He opened up to AXS about his family, his strong commitment to raising adoption and foster care awareness, and his inspiring “America’s Got Talent” audition in the exclusive interview below.

AXS: You’re a mental health nurse, a part-time worship leader, a dad, a husband who is pursuing a singing career. How do you keep it all balanced?

Michael Ketterer: The only way possible is because of my wife. She’s amazing. She really runs our house. We call her the queen. She keeps everybody on task and everybody pitches in. I come from a big family. So, that’s just part of when you come from a big family, everybody has to pitch in, everybody has to help or there’s no way it can be done. That’s the thing, all our kids really look out for each other; especially my son with Cerebral Palsy. They help out so much with his care.

AXS: You have a Contemporary Christian Music background and released a debut album Touching Heaven under Influence Music. Chris Tomlin gave you a social media shout out on that record. How did that make you feel?

MK: That was crazy. I love Chris Tomlin! I’ve played and learned his songs over the years and for him to even just know I’m alive is a really cool deal for me. Michael W. Smith reached out to me as well and I was blown away.

AXS: What made you decide to try out for AGT?

MK: I love "America’s Got Talent." I love to go through on YouTube and watch all the Golden Buzzer moments. I had friends telling me about this opportunity to go on "America’s Got Talent" and I was like, If I did one of those reality shows, I would pick "America’s Got Talent" because while the talent part is very important, they also shine a light on the story. I felt like this would be an amazing opportunity to help bring my family out on that stage with me to bring awareness to foster care and kids with pediatric mental illness. I really was hoping for an opportunity to shine a light on that and motivate some people to get out there and help in the foster care system.

AXS: You picked a Bee Gees song for your audition. How did you pick that song?

MK: When it came time to audition I wanted to have a great song. But, I wanted to inspire my kids up there as well because they just had such a hard background and a really rough start in life. So, sometimes you have to go an extra mile. I thought this was going to be an amazing opportunity to inspire my own children. I wanted my song to be about that and I picked that song with my family in mind. And, of course, I wanted to make it my own. So, I made it more soulful than the original Bee Gees version.

AXS: What an amazing moment when Simon smashed that Golden Buzzer!  What was going through your mind when you saw him reach over and press it and the confetti started coming down?

MK: I was incredibly nervous out there on that stage and I go on stages and sing – nothing like this. It was all eyes on me, in front of four judges you have this crazy amount of respect for, also knowing that people are going to rewatch this on YouTube. I was incredibly nervous going out on that and after I performed and the room was on its feet and the judges had so many kind things to say, I thought, “I can’t wait till see if I make it through.” Then he stood up and made that comment “Sometimes actions speak louder than words” and got up to his feet and it was one of the coolest feelings. I can’t even explain it. It’s just such a wild experience.

AXS: For us watching, it was such a joyous moment! How did your wife and kids react? How did they feel about it?

MK: My wife has been my hugest fan. She loves to embarrass me with “He’s going to be on America’s Got Talent” to waiters, in line at the grocery store … so, she’s been my number one fan. When that happened, she was just ecstatic. The kids, they were just super overjoyed, even to the point of tears. It was a beautiful moment for my family. I loved it when they all ran out on stage when the confetti was coming down.

AXS: How has your life changed since that moment? What sort of feedback have you received from viewers at large or social media comments that have moved you?

MK: People have been commenting and saying, “You’ve been such an inspiration” and “I’ve been brought to tears. We can’t believe these children are from foster care, they’re so beautiful.” One of my favorites was “In an era where we see so many fathers that are not present in their families and their homes, we get to see you up on that stage and the sacrifice you’ve made.” That touched me really deep.

My own father left when I was 14-years-old and really wasn’t a part of my life until more recently. I feel like through this process with “America’s Got Talent,” we’re getting even closer. It’s giving us something to talk about. That’s been a wild thing I didn’t see coming. Another thing is just the amount of people who want a selfie with me. I spent my whole lunch break taking pictures with people at work. It’s so much fun and the hospital I work for has been so supportive.

AXS: Have you connected or developed camaraderie with any of your fellow AGT contenders?

MK: Not really. But Mandy Harvey from last season reached out to me and gave me advice on being Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer. She’s really sweet. She told me to drink lots of water and Vitamin C and I agree with that. And then she told me to just enjoy it – not to let it fly by but have a good time. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

AXS: What would winning “America’s Got Talent” mean to you?

MK: Well, that’s the dream. I don’t know what would come afterwards.  I don’t know if there would be some kind of deal that would allow me to continue to do music in some shape or fashion. But, that million dollars, I would absolutely use it to get a house. I’m from the East Coast. Houses cost a lot more out here in Southern California. I need that million dollars to get a house for my children and especially for my son [Rodrigo] that’s handicapped accessible, that he can move through on his walker and access things.

AXS: What is one thing you want “America’s Got Talent” viewers to know about you and is there a message you’d like to give them?

MK: I think seeing I’m extremely passionate about bringing awareness to pediatric mental health. There are not very many resources for kids under the age of 17 and especially under the age of five. I’d love to bring awareness to that and am super passionate about that, along with the need for foster care and both of those go hand-in-hand.

My message would be there’s such a huge need for these kids-- right in your own neighborhood. When we started thinking about adoption we thought we were going to have to adopt from overseas. What I found out through foster care is there are orphans and kids in need within 12 miles of my home. We talk about transforming our communities and making them better and a huge part of that is going into the foster system. That would be a message I hope people will hear.

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“America’s Got Talent” airs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC.