'American Idol' Alum Danny Gokey Shares How the Show Was 'Healing' After the Death of His First Wife

The American Idol alum opens up about how he was able to overcome personal tragedy to pursue a music career


American Idol alum Danny Gokey is back with new music!

The 36-year-old chart-topping singer has released his fifth studio album, Rise, which he hopes will “bring people together.”

After becoming a finalist on the eighth season of Idol, Gokey found a place in the Christian music world — with the help of some important lessons learned on the show.

“When I went on American Idol it opened up a whole new world to me, because before then I [only] sang in church and in praise and worship meetings,” Gokey tells PEOPLE. “I was so stuck in church, but there was this whole world out there. I didn’t want to erect walls or barriers that separate. Even though I’m a Christian singer, I wanted to have messages that people could relate to universally. I felt like American Idol broke those walls down. It didn’t matter what religion you were, it didn’t matter what ethnicity you were, what gender, what sexual orientation — everyone just tuned in and was entertained by the show.”

Amazingly, Gokey very nearly wasn’t on the program at all. Auditions were due to take place just one month after the death of his first wife Sophia in 2008, after a routine surgery for congenital heart disease.

“I’ll tell you this, I wanted to take my own life. I hated the pain I was in,” he says of this devastating period. “I didn’t want to go to the show, but it was my last opportunity because of the age limit. I was 28. Even though I didn’t want to go, I’m glad I did because it expanded my view of the world. The show actually helped bring me healing.”

Since then, Gokey created Sophia’s Heart Foundation in honor of his late wife. Now he’s found happiness once again with Leyicet Peralta. The pair are parents to Daniel, 4, and Victoria, 2, and Gokey exclusively tells PEOPLE they are expecting baby No. 3 later this year.

“This is a chapter of my life I didn’t know I was going to walk into,” says Gokey. “It’s one of those things that it’s unbelievable. I didn’t know that these chapters existed.”

American Idol influenced another aspect of his new album — the track “Chasing,” which reunited Gokey with fellow Idol vet, Jordin Sparks. He calls the recording experience “absolutely wonderful,” and counts the result among his favorite songs on Rise.

For the title track’s music video, Gokey decided to put his personal life and past tragedy aside and instead shed light on the issue of domestic violence.

Rise is available for purchase and iTunes download now.

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