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Chartbreaker: How Katy Nichole ‘Found a Purpose’ Amid Her Darkest Days — and Led Her to a Record-Setting Hit

The singer-songwriter's "In Jesus Name (God of Possible)" has spent much of 2022 as a staple at Christian radio after it first made waves on TikTok.

When Katy Nichole first teased what would become her breakthrough hit, “In Jesus Name (God of Possible),” it was a far cry from the completed product that has since set records on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs and Christian Airplay charts.

In August 2021, after a writing session with songwriters Ethan Hulse and David Spencer, Nichole posted a brief video on TikTok of herself singing the lyrics, “I pray that a breakthrough would happen today/ I pray miracles over your life in Jesus’ name.” Overnight, the clip went viral — earning 1.9 million views to date — but it presented her with a challenge. “I realized if I want to release this, I need to fully create a new song,” Nichole remembers. “It was the bridge that people were reacting to.”

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After shifting the bridge to become the song’s chorus, she created a new one with Hulse during a Zoom session last November before recording the final version at co-writer and producer Jeff Pardo’s SeeMore Sound studio later that month. By late January, the 22-year-old’s uplifting ballad and debut single arrived through Centricity Music.

Its central themes of encouragement, hope and triumph encapsulate a key part of her own story. Growing up in Mesa, Ariz., Nichole started singing in school and church choirs from a young age. But at 15, she needed to pause her musical aspirations to focus on her health. Nichole was born with congenital scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, prompting surgery to install metal rods and screws. “When I came out of the surgery, I was in excruciating pain,” she recalls. “It was the darkest time in my life. I got to a place where the pain wasn’t just physical, but mental, with severe anxiety and depression.”

Katy Nichole
Katy Nichole photographed on September 20, 2022 at Westlight Studios in Franklin, TN. Tracy Allison

She spent the next three years visiting numerous doctors, while also restarting her music ambitions — including auditions for American Idol and The Voice, though she never made it to the live shows. Eventually, she was told she would need a second surgery to remove the rods and screws, which though risky, ultimately led to clarity, both personally and professionally.

“The moment I came out of the surgery, it was like the dark smoke cloud over my life was parting,” she says. “I do feel like that was the day I found a purpose.” Soon, she was writing and performing Christian songs and began leading worship at a local church in Phoenix. (There, she met Josh Havens, lead singer of contemporary Christian music group The Afters, who served as Nichole’s mentor.) She even started posting covers on Instagram.

In February 2020, one in particular of Nichole singing Jordan Feliz’s R&B-tinged 2015 hit “The River” caught the attention of Centricity Music senior vp of A&R John Mays, prompting him to invite her to an independent artist retreat. The pandemic derailed the event, but Nichole continued sending music to the label, eventually attending a week of writing sessions in Nashville. And while she went in “just hoping to become a better songwriter,” she was quickly offered a record deal with Centricity, home to artists including Lauren Daigle, Brandon Heath and Unspoken. She signed in June 2021.

When her TikTok clip of “In Jesus Name” went viral a few months later, Nichole was able to lean on the label’s expertise to help “finalize the song, release it promptly and work with social accounts to point new fans to Katy,” says Andrew Lambeth, Centricity’s vp of sales and promotions.

Upon its official release as “In Jesus Name (God of Possible)” at the top of the year, the song vaulted up the iTunes chart, grabbing the attention of CCM radio station network K-LOVE, which quickly rushed the song into its rotation. “It hit radio four days after it was released, which is crazy,” Nichole says. “Usually, it takes a few months.”

Other stations followed suit, and by late April, “In Jesus Name” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart, 12 weeks after debuting on the chart at No. 26. The rapid climb marked the quickest journey to the summit for a debut from a female artist in the chart’s 19-year history. The song likewise now holds the record for the most weeks at No. 1 for a debut single by a female artist on both Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs (20 weeks) and Christian Airplay charts (nine). Already, follow-up single “God Is in This Story” — a collaboration with faith group Big Daddy Weave — has also entered the top 10 of Hot Christian Songs. “I’m just grateful to be a vessel that carries these words,” Nichole says.

Katy Nichole
Katy Nichole and Katie Mohre photographed on September 20, 2022 at Westlight Studios in Franklin, TN. Tracy Allison

As her career takes off, and as she finishes work on an upcoming full-length album, Nichole has beefed up her team with the addition of Proper Management’s Katie Mohre. (Mohre had previously served as a mentor to the young singer-songwriter, acting as a sounding board as Nichole integrated herself into Nashville’s contemporary Christian music community.) “My goal is to empower her to keep using her voice for what she’s intended to,” says Mohre.

“I felt like my story is pretty messy and broken,” adds Nichole, “but I knew God’s handprints are all over my life.”

A version of this story will appear in the Oct. 8, 2022, issue of Billboard.