Danny Gokey, American Idol

Top 12 finalist Danny Gokey may be an early fan favorite, but no amount of American Idol success can undo the tragedy that befell him when his wife, Sophie, died at the age of 27, during surgery to address a congenital heart condition.

Such an unimaginable sadness is inescapable for Danny, even as he is thrust to the fore on America's most popular television program. How will he strike a balance between the plain facts about who is he versus any appearance of "playing the sympathy card"?

"People coming in from an outside view probably will think it's too much, but it's only been seven months since she passed," Gokey pointed out during a press conference call the day after he made the Top 12. "It's just who I am. It's not that I throw it in peoples' faces, but I get asked about it all the time."

Gokey calls his status as a widower "a sob story I don't want," but points out that "it's shaping my life, and it's causing hope for a lot of people. I didn't want to live anymore after she passed, but now I have my mission set in stone."

Gokey's fortitude in the wake of such devastation has impressed fellow finalist Michael Sarver, to name one. "I have mad respect for Danny," Sarver says. "My wife is my absolute best friend, and if she did pass away I don't understand how I could wake up the next day."

Looking ahead to the next steps in the Idol competition, Gokey ventures, "There's a fun side of me that's going to come out." Yet while his mood may appear to lighten on stage, make no mistake that he will forever be dealing with the sadness of his lost love. Says Gokey, "It's still just so fresh in my mind."