First Nigerian contestant on American Idol is MSU alum

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Funmike Lagoke is an alumnae of Morgan State University and first Nigerian woman to compete on American Idol in the show’s history. (Courtesy photo)

By Cara Williams
Special to the AFRO

Being a member of the Morgan State choir for four years and earning a Bachelor of Arts in music is a significant accomplishment. But, being chosen for American Idol is another level of achievement.

Funmike Lagoke, 28, a Morgan State Alumni, also known as Funke Lagoke on the show American Idol, was a contestant on season 19 of the ABC television series. 

She was the first Nigerian woman to compete on the show. 

Born In Washington D.C., but raised in Nigeria and London, Lagoke, is no stranger to being in the spotlight. She is a stage performer and the current Miss Nigeria USA (2019). 

A Classically trained vocalist, Lagoke made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra as a featured soloist in Hannibal Lokumbe’s “Healing Tones.” 

Lagoke, who felt like she was supposed to be doing something more than classical music, decided to begin auditioning for performances outside her comfort zone.

“I hit a roadblock where I was like, I just feel like I am supposed to be doing more,” Lagoke said.

She stumbled on American Idol but was cautious about television shows but decided she would give it a go.

“I’ll just try it. Let’s see what happens. It’s one in a million for someone to really get on this show,” she said.

This year due to COVID, ABC did the auditions via zoom. There were thousands of auditions that ran from August to October. 

Lagoke auditioned singing a Song For You by Donny Hathaway, and the zoom judge told her, “ok, we’ll be in touch.” She said she thought to herself, “they always say that.”

Lagoke said she was at the gym when she received an email asking her to send more material because the producers were interested in her. She said she could not believe it and sent them everything she had.

“I was like, wait a minute, what? I didn’t expect that and just sent everything in,” Lagoke said.

Lagoke explains that she had to do a few more rounds of auditions before she auditioned in front of the star judges. It was not a guarantee until she received the congratulations email that she would be auditioning in front of  Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. 

She must have been that one in a million because Funmike Lagoke was on her way to San Diego, Calif.

With her deep, rich, unique contralto voice, Lagoke sang A Song For You again for the judges. 

Lagoke said she has always misunderstood her voice. It was like no one else’s. She learned to appreciate the richness of her voice while attending Morgan State and with the help of her mentor Thaddeus Price Jr. 

She said he always told her, “You just don’t know what you have is so special and different and unique.”

Lagoke said after she finished singing the song, Katy Perry asked her, “Wow. Are you a baritone?”

Lagoke recalls Perry telling her that she had an ace card with a voice that could sing as low as a baritone and as high as a soprano. “No one is doing that,” Perry said.

Lagoke said after a few vocal exercises to test her range, she received three solid yeses, and she received her golden ticket.

She was off to Hollywood.

Lagoke said the transition from being a chorister, a soloist and a classical singer to Hollywood and a tv produced singing competition was the most significant 360-degree circle of her life. 

“I had to learn about what it was they wanted, the song choice, the voice type, the image,” Lagoke said.

The encounter with Hollywood productions, being interviewed, getting up early, staying up late for rehearsals was a dramatic change for Lagoke. 

But the experience made her feel like a star, she said.

During Hollywood week, in the first round (the genre round), Lagoke sang My Funny Valentine. She said the judges gave her great feedback. Her voice was beginning to grow on them, and she moved to the next round.

The next round was the duet round. Her partner was Ronda Felton. They sang Tell Him written by Linda Thompson and Sung by Barabara Streisand and Celine Dion. 

As the judges were giving the duo their critiques, Lagoke fainted and was rushed to the hospital. She was treated for dehydration and released.

She advanced to the Show Stopper round but was eliminated on March 29

Although Lagoke understands that the talent that got her through three rounds on the  Idol stage will be shrouded in the infamous fall, she said she does not regret a minute of the experience.

“I was put out there in the light when I was the most under pressure, stress, dehydrated anxiety, through everything. And the world knows me because of me fainting on stage,” Lagoke said. 

“ I am forever grateful for the experience because it is an eyeopener,” She said.

Lagoke, who has been a music teacher in Baltimore City Schools for the past seven years, said she has no plans to return to a competition like Idol but has other things in the works.

She has been working on music that she plans to release next month on an EP of Afrobeat music. 

Through the whole experience, Lagoke said she felt the love and support of “her” people. Here and in Nigeria. 

“ People have just filled my heart with so much love and messages and well wishes.” I am so filled, and I’m grateful,” Lagoke said.

As for the fall, “What I realized is that I will be more inspiring in my fall than I could ever imagine,” She said.