The name of the television show is “The Voice,” and the winner is supposed to be chosen on raw vocal talent and not appearance or slick production.
What became apparent as the season progressed and in the NBC show’s finale Tuesday night, however, is that fans had taken to their hearts the man behind the voice – this season’s winner, Todd Tilghman of Meridian.
Tilghman turned all four of the judges’ chairs, a rarity for the show, in his debut performance of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” on Feb. 24, but in the weeks that followed his personal story, his enormous enthusiasm and his neighborly personality won over fans as much as the powerful voice that came from within.
Tilghman is pastor of Meridian’s Cornerstone Church on Highway 39N, a ministry that his father, Clarence Tilghman, held before him. He married his high school sweetheart, Brooke, and they have eight children. He never sang professionally and it was only at Brooke’s persistence that he gave himself a shot, at age 41 in February, at “The Voice” opportunity.
Any piece of that back story, along with Tilghman’s singing, would be enough to win over “The Voice” coaches, fans and their votes. Then, performance after performance, his jubilance, family-man aura and simplicity built a following across America.
The country learned what people back home in Meridian, Mississippi who have crossed his path already knew. Tilghman is genuine – a down-to-earth individual and a family man with an overflowing compassion to match his enthusiasm.
America likely saw in Tilghman an everyman. When he holy hopped onto that stage, he represented every person who ever belted out a tune in the shower, every person who had a dream to perform in the arena, every person who walked down their chosen path but had that lingering thought of what if …
And America likely saw in Tilghman exactly what they needed when there seems so much gloom around us from the COVID-19 pandemic, a man with no pretense and a good, positive story to tell behind his voice. They could root for him – or maybe they needed to root for him.
The other performers had their own talent and stories to tell, too, and some of them may have given more polished performances and perhaps have brighter futures as entertainers, but as the clock ticked closer to 10 p.m. Central time Tuesday it was apparent that Todd Tilghman, of Meridian, Mississippi, was the man for the moment.
He has been the perfect distraction for a country at a time when we’ve most needed one, following report after daily report of COVID-19 infections and deaths, the economic pain its caused and the political wrangling surrounding it.
Even more so, this community needed Tilghman’s success story.
We have written previously about Meridian and East Mississippi’s lack of a rallying point. We don’t have a common professional or college team to unite us, and even the region’s positive attributes seem to attract their critics.
That hasn’t been the case with the Todd Tilghman story. The support and celebration of him and with him in and around Meridian is as thick in the air as the humidity of a Mississippi summer day.
We thank Todd Tilghman for being our community’s champion when we most need one.
Our wish for him is that he finds the balance that allows him to be true to himself, his family and his church as a new world opens its doors to him.
Having watched him these last few months and on the streets of Meridian, we believe he will.
Our wish for the community is we carry forward a belief in ourselves.