The actress, 42 — who plays bearded lady Lettie Lutz in Michael Gracey’s original movie musical — belted the Academy Award-nominated Best Song “This is Me” at Sunday’s show to an audience of celebrities that included the film’s star Zendaya — who introduced the performance.
Settle, decked in a glittery blue gown, was backed by a chorus of singers.
Zendaya was cheering her on from the wings. “I have sang out, screamed out and done full choreo from the wings…” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m so proud of you @kealasettle YOU KILLED THAT!!!!!!!!!!”
Settle’s poignant performance was extra special. As she told PEOPLE that the song helped her overcome her own battles with body image issues, feelings of unworthiness;, and the constant questioning of her own talent and existence.
“I learned not to give power to that doubt and that insecurity anymore,” she said. “Everybody has those feelings. So it made me step up. That fight will always be something I struggle with, but each time I sing, it gets easier. I can’t really do that bullying anymore and I’m grateful of that.”
“This Is Me” faced off for Best Original Song against “Mighty River” from Mudbound, “Mystery of Love ”from Call Me By Your Name, “Remember Me” from Coco and “Stand up For Something” from Marshall — but lost the Oscar to EGOT winner Bobby Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s “Remember Me.”
A victory for The Greatest Showman would have marked the second consecutive Oscar win in the category for songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who took home the statue the last year for La La Land‘s “City of Stars.” The duo has also picked up a Grammy and Tony for their work on Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, meaning they only need an Emmy to round out their EGOT.
“This is Me” won Best Original Song in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globe Awards in January. Kesha also released her own version of the hit in December on the show’s soundtrack, which earned a No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.
The anthem of self-empowerment has really resonated with fans, many of whom have reached out Settle her on social media to share their covers of the tune and their experiences with the very challenges she’s battled her whole life.
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“It constantly humbles me,” she told PEOPLE. “I have a cold every day because I’ve been crying for months. I’m so dehydrated!”
“People of all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes, and nationalities have been reaching out with covers, artwork, choreography, and their stories. Blue and blonde hair girls drawing beards on their face with markers and dancing around the room to ‘This Is Me,’ living their best lives,” she says. “I go to Instagram and see stories about people who have wanted to take their own life but put the gun down because of this song. And I think, ‘Keala, look at what the vehicle you’ve been given to transport to people has done for everyone.’ It’s remarkable.”
The 2018 Oscars are airing live on ABC from the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center.