De'Borah Garner can hardly stop smiling or shaking her head.
Three days ago, she was the closeted daughter of two Chicago Heights Pastors, denied the right to sing before her congregation because she refused to wear a dress. Today, she is the out gay star that captured audiences on national television.
Garner, a current competitor on NBC's singing competition "The Voice," has changed her story in more ways than she can count since the show first aired Sept. 10. And she made two dreams a reality: she came out as gay for the first time, and she sang to a national audience.
"I'm still in 'ah!' mode," she said, sitting outside the Chicago Heights Library with her girlfriend. "I can't stop screaming."
Garner was born into a family of faith, music and education. Both her parents, married 28 years now, are church pastors and teachers. Garner and her 10 siblings grew up in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood, performing gospel music in churches throughout the city. Their performances aired on church telecasts.
"People literally watched me grow up," said Garner, who adds that she is no stranger to the stage.
But there was one part of Garner's life people didn't see: since she was 10-years-old Garner had girlfriends, including a seven-year relationship she hid from her family.
She dreamed about coming out, but she kept boyfriends and kept quiet about the girlfriends she had in addition.
A self-described geek, Garner excelled in school in addition to music. She was a class clown, she admitted, because she finished her schoolwork before other students and used her free time to goof off. Still, she graduated high school when she was just 16-years-old. She went on to college, aiming to get a degree in the theology, a degree she hasn't finished.
As she got older, her sexual orientation became harder to hide.
One day when she was 18, her dad walked in on her holding a pair of hair clippers, her long hair still intact. She was going to clean the clippers, not shave her head, she told him. When he walked away, she immediately buzzed a strip down the center of her head. There was no going back after that. She buzzed the rest off.
As her appearance became more masculine in her early 20s, her singing gigs slowed. Churches that once hired her months in advance emailed her and told her not to show for performances. They would still pay her, they said, but unless she would wear the dress and heels, she wouldn't fit in. Some gave no explanation at all. One told her that unless she signed a contract stating she would wear a dress, she would not be allowed to perform.
"I cried," she said. "I cried like a baby. It hurt my feelings."
The trend continued for more than two years, and the more masculine her clothing became, the more complicated her life in the church grew.
Barred from singing before church congregations, Garner began performing at local karaoke nights at bars.
It was a less than attentive audience, she found. Between the alcohol and distractions of a noisy bar, few paid attention. So, Garner had to learn to work a crowd, to make them listen.
At the same time, she teaching voice lessons in the neighborhood.
One evening in April, she made plans with one of her students to go Lady Red's karaoke night. The student came with Fredalyn Lang, a friend who lived nearby. When Lang saw Garner walk in, she said to the student, "that's my wife."
The student ran and told Garner who timidly made her move by asking the student for Lang's number.
The two went to karaoke together the following night and have been together ever since.
"She was so amazing that I fell in love literally in like nine days," said Garner, Lang sitting quietly behind her.
When Garner decided to audition for The Voice, more than two years of cancelled church gigs had passed.
The Voice, NBC's singing competition show now in its second season, is unique in that judges can't see competitors, making the competition more about talent than looks. Garner chose the show for that reason, after her sister told her it was a place where her voice would be prioritized over her appearance.
Competitors auditioned before four celebrity coachesChristina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Maroon 5's Adam Levine and country music star Blake Shelton. Singers advance when they get selected by one of the coaches during blind auditions. Then, they compete within their teams to advance forward.
Before her audition, Garner explained to the cameras that became a misfit within the church because of the way she looked. She then says she is gay.
It was the first time she came out to her parents, she said. They were overwhelmingly supportive.
In her audition, Garner sings Train's "Hey, Soul Sister," a song she once sang in protest of a pastor who was saying disparaging things about gay people.
Garner seems to wow the crowd, with a shock pink and blue outfit and what appears to be raw confidence on stage.
Despite the bravado on stage, Garner confesses she was more nervous than she ever has been on stage. The blind audition concept means that competitors sing to the backs of chairs, which spin around if celebrity coaches hit a button indicating they want to work with the singer.
"If you pay attention, my knees are shaking," she said. "I had to prove something. I had to make [the coaches] like me."
In the end, both CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera selected Garner, giving her the choice between the two. Garner chose Aguilera.
Three days after the show aired, Garner could hardly comprehend her own success.
Sitting on a set of steps outside the Chicago Heights Public Library, she shook her head repeatedly and said she couldn't believe the last few days. She was halfway into telling the story of how she met Lang when a mailman pulled up.
"Did I see you on The Voice the other night?" he asked.
Yes. He did, she said.
The mailman spent another five minutes quizzing her on her progress on the show, information she can't share until after the episodes air.
For now, her audition song is for sale on iTunes, and she woke up Tuesday morning to see her face on Yahoo news. Moreover, her entire community learned she is gay.
"I dreamed about [coming out], but I never thought it would happen," she said. "I'm still shocked. I can't believe I said it myself."
Asked why she chose her appearance on The Voice to come out, she shrugged. It was time she said. She wants to get married, and she doesn't want to hide.
Admittedly, she is still getting used to the word, "gay." She is more likely to identify as "De'Borah" than anything else, she said. But she sees a utility in identifying as gay, too.
Now, Garner is faced with the challenge of reconciling two communities: the LGBT community she has never had but wants and the church community that never fully knew her until now.
Garner may have a lesson for the latter. Ministry, she says, is not just about Jesus. It's about making people feel better. It's about love.
"I'm not afraid of who I am," she said. "God made me this way."