Rion Thompson was 13-years-old when she stepped onto “The X-Factor” stage, and millions of Americans watched on their television screens at home to see her sing.
After being mentored by Demi Lovato, she placed fifth overall on the television music competition show created by British producer Simon Cowell.
Today the 18-year-old freshman is studying to be a worship leader in the National Praise and Worship Institute at Trevecca. As she looks back, she says being on the “The X-Factor” was not the best thing to ever happen to her.
“With X-Factor, I got a taste of the world. For a moment that’s going to be awesome, but I learned quickly that was not what I wanted. I remember last summer getting down on my hands and knees and asking God what it looked like to surrender everything to him,” Thompson said.
A week after that, Thompson received a call for an internship at a church in Jacksonville, Florida. By the next Monday, she had purchased the plane ticket to live there for a year on her own. Moving away was new, but there was an additional adjustment from life without her mom.
Thompson has a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. It causes her hands to be bent in a fixed position. Thompson said that she is humbled by it, finding herself in a lot of situations where she needs to ask for help.
Rather than seeing it as a disability, Thompson sees it as just a difference, and prefers to call it such.
“People put abilities above other abilities when really all abilities are used in different ways,” Thompson said. “I’m a good singer, but I can’t open up a water bottle.”
Thompson said that one of her most memorable performances was the first time she led worship at her internship. Watching people come to the front to pray at the altar, coming before God as she was singing was significant in knowing that she was called to worship and Christian music, she said.
To her, that was 10 times better than being on “The X-Factor.”
Thompson enrolled in NPWI because she wants to lead worship and produce Christian music in the future. She also serves on the children’s worship team on Sundays at The Belonging Co. Church once a month.
Thompson’s band for NPWI includes Mya Hodges, a freshman.
Hodges and Thompson have talked about Thompson’s past in the music business, and how she felt a call from God to lead worship rather than making music for the business aspect.
“She has an audience of one, and she knows that now. She also has this freedom too. It’s peaceful, free and pure,” Hodges said.
In her classes, Thompson is learning piano on her MIDI, a keyboard that allows her to play easier by having the keys closer together.
“She doesn’t let earthly circumstances define her,” Healey said. “She lets God define her.”
For her music classes, there are things that have been altered to allow Thompson to learn in a way that best fits her. As an alternative to the proper fingering for scales on piano, Thompson is assessed by playing and singing the notes to reinforce her aural skills.
Rather than playing each note with one finger, Thompson was rolling her hand across the keys to play several notes fluidly, going beyond what she needed to do, Mark Hosny, NPWI director said.
“One thing I’ve tried to model in our curriculum for helping her is that everything she is doing has a purpose musically that she can hands-on do,” Hosny said. “She can see the results now, and she’s fighting for it, which is awesome.”
Thompson hopes that adjusting the curriculum for her and creating this system will help another person later on at Trevecca.
Hosny knew who Thompson was from her time on “The X-Factor.” It’s easy to have a big ego being on a television show like that, but Thompson doesn’t, said Hosny.
Hosny oversees the band challenges that happen on campus for NPWI students.
“What stands out about her voice is that it’s definitely powerful. But it’s a power through humility. I think if you can mix those together, the powerful voice that God gives you with the humility that you’re really serving his purpose, that’s fantastic,” Hosny said.
Thompson gets recognized when she goes out, and even on campus.
“We knew she had the difference, but our biggest thing was knowing she was coming from the X-Factor, and our concern as RA’s was making sure that people weren’t thinking of her differently because she’s verified on Instagram,” Brianna Salyer, Thompson’s RA said.
Thompson thinks it’s weird that people still recognize her six years after the show, but she saw the experience as a time of perseverance and is thankful for the lessons she learned there.
“The music isn’t everything,” Thompson said. “You have to have spirit behind what you do.”