When Cami Bradley was eliminated from the NBC talent show “America’s Got Talent” in September, it marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
On the stage at Radio City Music Hall in front of a television audience of more than 11 million viewers, the 25-year-old Spokane singer-songwriter learned she would be going home in sixth place, the first casualty in the final round of the series’ eighth season. Looking back on that moment now, Bradley says that the first feeling to seize her wasn’t regret or disappointment, or even sadness. It was relief.
“Every time I had gone through to the next round, it was really exciting,” Bradley recalled. “But it also meant a lot more work.”
She had performed for the voting public the night before – an encore of her interpretation of Cher’s “Believe” and a melancholy cover of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – and had just finished a duet with pop singer Gavin DeGraw, and she walked away from the show content with her accomplishments. “I knew there was absolutely nothing different or better I could have done,” she said, “that I had given everything I possibly could have and presented everything I wanted to.”
“I always find it interesting when people ask us if we were disappointed that Cami got sixth,” said Bradley’s mother Amy Miller. “I think the thing that struck me when I was trying to answer that question was the outcome or the result didn’t define her from day one. As an artist and as a musician, this was an experience that would add to who she is, and it really freed us up to just enjoy the ride.”
Bradley grew up in a musical family, surrounded by music at home and in church, and Miller remembers the first time she became aware of her daughter’s vocal abilities. “We were riding on our way to church. Her dad was leading worship that weekend, and he was warming up in the car, just doing vocal scales,” Miller recalled. “And all of a sudden, we realized our 4-year-old was mocking him, basically following him note for note.
“We knew at that point that not only could she sing, but she had an ear.”
Piano lessons soon followed, and Bradley was writing her own songs by the time she was 10.
“I have notebooks of old songs that are just terrible, but you have to start somewhere,” Bradley said. “I can definitely see the phases of life that I was in. When you’re really young, you write about things that you see, and when you get older, you write about things that you feel. So I can see the progression of who I was as a person.”
It was when she was a teenager and started performing her original songs live that other people started noticing her talent. “For years I heard, ‘Why don’t you audition for “American Idol”? Why don’t you audition for “The Voice”?’ And it just never appealed to me,” Bradley said. “I never wanted the fame, I never wanted to be on a TV show. It just all sounded terrible to me.”
But then there was a telephone call at the beginning of this year: An “America’s Got Talent” talent scout familiar with Bradley’s music suggested she submit an audition video to the show’s producers. They liked what they saw and flew her to Chicago to audition for the show, a decision she says she questioned upon entering a room of trapeze artists, magicians and contortionists.
“I was like, ‘What am I doing here? This is an awful idea. Why did I say yes to this?’ “ Bradley said. “But I kind of think it was a blessing for me. I may have been really intimidated, if I had walked into a room of singers.”
Bradley describes the first time she took the stage in front of the judges – shock jock Howard Stern, comedian Howie Mandel, supermodel Heidi Klum and former Spice Girl Mel B – as an almost out-of-body experience: “It felt like I was watching TV, like I was watching someone else do the show,” Bradley said. “And I forgot everything I was going to say. I had these prepared notes so that I wouldn’t sound like a fool, and I sounded like a fool probably. They didn’t show that on TV luckily.”
She auditioned with an a cappella rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and although the judges weren’t immediately enthusiastic, they put her through to the show’s next round in Las Vegas.
Suddenly Bradley’s song choice seemed all the more appropriate: She certainly wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Waiting became an integral part of the “America’s Got Talent” experience, and every step in Bradley’s progress on the show was separated by long periods of anticipation.
“The thing you learn about doing a show like this is that everything that’s done is for the benefit of the show,” said Eric Bradley, Cami’s husband. “The producers can really intervene and do what they want to do. We actually know people that got a ‘yes’ in that initial audition but didn’t get to go to Vegas.”
It wasn’t until weeks after the audition in Chicago that Bradley finally received a definite confirmation that she would be advancing to the next round. She and her family were flown to Vegas where she would perform again – first for the producers, then again for the judges and camera crews – and Bradley says she spent an entire week in Vegas before ever being filmed.
Even then, she barely got any airtime. “As we were watching the show, I thought, ‘Oh man, they didn’t show me at all. How am I going to get votes?’ “ Bradley said. She made it through the Vegas round on the good will of the judges, however, and was sent to New York City as one of 60 competing hopefuls.
Bradley made her live television debut during the show’s fourth week of quarter finals, premiering the balladic version of “Believe” she would later play on the finale. The judges raved about her performance, particularly Stern, who told her, “You look like a star and you’re going to have a huge career.”
As Miller, her mother, pointed out, “It was the first time any of us saw her for more than 10 seconds on TV. It really, truly was her moment. You could tell. People had no idea where she came from.”
“She kind of flew under the radar a little bit,” Eric Bradley said. “I think Cami surprised people, and I think she surprised the producers a little bit.”
Bradley added, “But I didn’t peak too early. People didn’t know me yet, didn’t have a feel for my voice or my story or anything. So that came at the right time, and it was very helpful for me in the competition.”
In between each round, Bradley and her family were flying back and forth between New York and Spokane, and then there was even more waiting: Songs had to be cleared through legal channels before they could be performed, wardrobe and hair stylists had to approve all of their choices, and there were rehearsals, camera setups, sound checks and interview sessions.
But Bradley says her experience working with the show’s producers and consultants was nothing but positive. “I felt like everyone was on my team, once the song was chosen and we were in go mode,” she said.
Bradley had received enough viewer votes to advance to the semifinals round, where she performed her rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” She again advanced, and 24 contestants were whittled down to 12. In her last performance before the finals, Bradley, now known for her melodic, stripped-down arrangements of famous pop songs, took on Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” She was voted through again, making it into the Top 6.
That was as far as Bradley got – dancer Kenichi Ebina would eventually be named the season 8 winner, with comedian Taylor Williamson as runner-up – but it’s much further than she had ever anticipated when she first auditioned in Chicago.
“There was never a point where we thought, ‘Oh, we’re totally going to the finals,’ “ Bradley said. “I’ve always been really content with where I’m at, so I never thought, ‘This will ruin my life, if I don’t make it. My dreams will be crushed.’ That made the process a lot easier. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world, if I didn’t make it to the next round.”
Miller added, “It was less about the outcome and more about the experience for her.”
Since the end of the show, Bradley has toured around the country for seven weeks with other “America’s Got Talent” finalists, she performed two sold-out concerts at the Bing Crosby Theater in September and her locally produced 2012 album “SEAS” has sold more than 10,000 copies. Bradley says the outpouring from fans, both locally and elsewhere, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her “AGT” experience.
“It is wonderful, the support I’ve gotten,” she said. “People are sending me emails and reaching out to me. It’s pretty amazing that there are that many people out there that want to hear my music and support me.”
Bradley isn’t sure where the future will take her: She’s since left her job as music director at Life Center Church, where her husband is worship director and her mother is creative arts director, and is now focused on the road ahead.
“In five months, my life has turned upside down, and I’m now having to make decisions and figure out what life looks like with the exposure that I got,” Bradley said.
“I got to sing at Radio City Music Hall. I got to meet celebrities. I got to sing with a celebrity. When in the heck would that have happened, if I didn’t take this chance and step out of my comfort zone and go on a reality TV show? It’s just amazing.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.