The word "survival" has come up a lot as Pearland resident Kechi Okwuchi advances on NBC's America's Got Talent.
Okwuchi, 27, is one of two people who survived a 2005 plane crash in her native Nigeria. She endured more than 100 surgeries; third-degree burns and injuries have left her body scarred.
Now, she's reached the semifinals of America's Got Talent. In a live broadcast this week, Okwuchi brought celebrity judges to their feet after she delivered a powerful rendition of Katy Perry's By the Grace of God.
Judge Howie Mandel called Okwuchi a "beacon of beauty and inspiration," and pointed out that her performance is important in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Judge Mel B told Okwuchi that she had a "pitch-perfect" voice, but "more importantly, to me, you are a survivor."
With tears streaming down her cheek, the soft-spoken Okwuchi acknowledged Houston in her post-performance interview.
"I pray that my performance gave them something positive to see," Okwuchi said. "I'm not even sure if people in Houston can see this, but I pray that they can ... and that they feel something positive and they feel strength."
On her Facebook page, she urged prayer for her home city, thanking first-responders and urging Houstonians to be strong.
In 2007, Okwuchi and her family moved to Galveston, where she received treatment at Shriner's Hospital for Children. In 2015, she graduated with a degree in economics from the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
During auditions, she said in an interview that music kept her going.
"Lying in the hospital bed, bandaged head to foot, not being able to move or do anything else, music was my escape. That's why it means so much to me," she said. "What happened to me was horrible. But I refuse to let it define me. Instead, I draw strength from it."