Of all the songs nominated for an Oscar this year, one stands out more than the rest, and mostly because of its singer. The song is called "Alone Yet Not Alone," and it is performed not by U2, Karen O, Idina Menzel or Pharrell Williams, but an unknown talent named Joni Eareckson Tada, who is quadriplegic and has never sung professionally in her life.
Tada's song provides the theme for the movie of the same title. It was an independent Christian flick that made only $134,000 at the box office, but managed to oust song favorites from Coldplay, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce from the running. Tada's accomplishment comes as an even bigger surprise, considering this 64-year-old has a lung that only operates at 51% capacity.
"It's so out of left field," Tada tells the Good News blog. "I'm just as astounded as everyone else."
When Tada's friend called her last week to break the news following the Oscar announcement, Tada thought it was a joke. It wasn't until she was overwhelmed with social media posts that she finally realized what was happening.
"It was just so incredulous, such an impossibility," she says.
Tada, who is based in Los Angeles, was injured in a diving accident at the age of 17, leaving her a quadriplegic. She moves around in a wheelchair, and wears a corset she describes as very "Scarlett O'Hara," which helps her sit up straight and stabilizes her diaphragm. To hit high notes when she sings, someone - in this case her husband - has to press on her abdomen in order to push out more air.
"I cannot feel from my collar bone level down, so when he's pressing on me, I can't feel that except that suddenly I've got more air, I've got more power," Tada explains. "I've got more strength in my voice is the best way to put it."
For someone who lives almost completely outside the Hollywood sphere, it would seem extraordinary that Tada was selected for this performance -- that is, until you hear about her surprisingly cinematic life.
When Tada's accident left her without the ability to use her arms, she began painting pictures using her mouth. In 1974, she was showcasing her work at an exhibit and the story was picked up by a local news affiliate. Soon after, "The Today Show" caught wind of her story, and she found herself being interviewed by Barbara Walters on national television. A publisher watched the interview and asked Tada to write a book. She did, and before she knew it, Billy Graham was calling her up, requesting she star in a movie about her life.
In 1979, "Joni" was released in theaters.
"I've never really knocked on doors, they've just been opened," Tada observes. "They've always presented themselves."
Tada happened into "Alone Yet Not Alone" in similar fashion. She was speaking at a conference and decided to sing a hymn at the close of her message. Someone in the audience who was friends with the film's producer liked her voice, and suggested she sing the theme.
Though she never thought the singing gig would work out, it did. It really did in fact, with an Academy nomination as proof.
"What is fun is that I sit in the shadows of people like Taylor Swift and Bono, and all these talented singers that make a career of it," she remarks. "I'm just the lady in the wheelchair who hummed hymns throughout my life. I'm the least likely candidate."
As her day job, Tada runs a nonprofit organization called Joni and Friends, which delivers wheelchairs to disadvantaged people in different countries. They will be delivering their one hundredth this April.