8-Year-Old Gospel-Singing Sensation Amazes Crowds

Singing prodigy Rhema Marvanne was inspired by a personal tragedy.

Dec. 10, 2010 — -- Rhema Marvanne is only 8 but everywhere she performs, from a Dallas Cowboys game to a Korean TV talent show, the 42-pound Texan gets the same reaction: People are awestruck by the little girl's great big voice.

An unknown one year ago, Rhema turned into a viral sensation after her father posted videos of her singing gospel songs on YouTube. Her videos have garnered more than 18 million views and counting.

Click here to watch Rhema sing.

Gospel is her style of choice for a reason.

"God called me to do gospel and I believe gospel can touch people's hearts," the surprisingly poised prodigy said.

Watch the full story on "20/20" tonight at 10 ET.

Indeed, she sings with a depth of emotion rarely heard from someone so young. She is an old soul, shaped perhaps by personal tragedy that began when her mother, Wendi, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Rhema was 3.

But she has fond memories of her short time with her mother.

"We would do plays, like, you know, those Bible stories," she said. "It's kind of hilarious but sometimes I would be a boy and sometimes she would be a boy."

She remembers the painful times, too.

Her father, Teton Voraritskul, said he and his wife decided not to shield their daughter from her mother's illness. Instead, Rhema was there for chemotherapy treatments and much more. She was an eyewitness to some of her mom's darkest days.

"I kept on praying in my heart, 'God, please help her to feel better. Please, just heal her,'" she said.

Rhema said she tried to cheer her mother up.

"I held her hand. I smiled at her. I told her that I was going to be OK," she said. "I did everything I could to make her happy."

Rhema was with her mother when she died in November, 2008.

"I was sitting right beside her," she remembered. "Then daddy came over and we both saw the last breath she took."

Voraritskul said he knows the experience was traumatic for his daughter but added, "that is a part of life."

"I wanted her to grow up to be strong," he said. "She was able to see her mother in suffering and also courageous."

Singing at Age 6

Still grieving, Voraritskul decided to introduce Rhema to the music her mother loved most: gospel. He taught his then 6-year-old daughter his wife's favorite song, "Amazing Grace."

It's a song Rhema today believes perfectly suits her mom. "My mother was amazing," Rhema said. "And she had a lot of grace -- in her, in her heart.

But Voraritskul said he was surprised by Rhema's own amazing singing voice. He had secretly feared his daughter might be tone deaf.

"I never really recognized her talent because she would make up her own songs," he said. "So, I really didn't know if she was actually singing on tune or not."

Like any proud father, he decided to record some of her performances for a few friends and family and post them on YouTube. Within a few months, the videos went viral.

"Amazing Grace" quickly became Rhema's anthem.

Within a year of the YouTube release, she cut two albums. Her latest album, "All Seasons," includes holiday songs that pay tribute to music legends such as Mariah Carey and even Elvis Presley.

Her musical sophistication makes it easy to forget she's just a kid, one who loves her puppy and her Barbie dolls.

She also loves singing at her mother's favorite church. Rhema said she's close to her mom when she sings.

"I can feel her," she said, "through my spirit."