In 2008, Martinez underwent surgery for congenital heart disease and died during the operation. An enthusiastic fan of American Idol, she had asked Gokey to audition for the show on several occasions. He ultimately auditioned that summer -- a mere four weeks after her passing -- and became one of the show's early frontrunners, sailing through each round with his gruff, soulful vocals and tear-jerking back-story. Gokey ultimately finished third in the competition, with only Adam Lambert and Kris Allen receiving more votes.
The American Idols LIVE! Tour kept him busy until September 2009, at which point he signed with 19 Recordings (in conjunction with RCA Nashville) and set to work on a country album. His first single, "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me," peaked at number 29 on the country chart, and he rang in the New Year by releasing a full-length record, My Best Days, in early 2010. Gokey's sophomore album, Hope in Front of Me, appeared in 2014 and featured the single "More Than You Think I Am." In 2015, he delivered the holiday album Christmas Is Here. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi