“It hurt so bad to see them take my dad. I wanted to be totally blind. I just didn’t want to see anymore,” Bonds said.
At 9, he got his wish.
Although Bonds had given up on his life, his grandmother hadn’t. Johnnie Mae Bonds had faith that the little boy who spent so much time making music on pots and pans with a spoon would grow up to be somebody. And young Bonds did, singing and playing the piano and guitar in church through his years at Suitland High School and later in college at George Mason University,where he graduated in 2010 with a major in journalism. Earlier this summer, he revealed his talents to the nation as a contestant on the hit reality show “The Glee Project,” on the Oxygen Network.
After his stint on the show ended, Bonds flew home to worship last Sunday at Refuge Temple Church in Northeast Washington, the national headquarters of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ Apostolic.
Bonds attended Refuge Temple as a boy with his grandmother, but this time she was not with him. This time, Bonds’s father sat next to him in the pew.
One of 10 children and one in a set of triplets, Bonds was raised mostly by his grandmother after his mother died of a brain aneurysm when he was 5 months old. Bonds was shuttled with his large family between emergency shelters, motels and public housing before he was taken in as a teenager by Janice Dupree, whose son had told her about a friend in the choir who didn’t have a steady place to live. Through it all, Bonds’s reputation as a singer and pianist grew in the District’s black church community.
“I am where I am today because of the power of prayer,” said Bonds, 24.
After graduating from George Mason, Bonds was working as a program assistant for the U.S. Department of Transportation when he learned about the “Glee Project” opportunity from Michele Weil, the retired Fairfax County teacher and mobility instructor who helped Bonds learn to navigate as a blind person.
But in many ways, Bonds was a perfect fit for “Project,” a summer reality show spinoff of the “Glee” television show in which participants compete to be part of the “Glee” cast for the next season.
“The ‘Glee Project’ celebrates the underdog, and me being blind and black, I am already considered an underdog,” Bonds said. “It was like God was talking to me.”
Bonds auditioned for “Project” online and then again at the New York City open casting call, where he was first among 80 finalists. Weil and a mutual friend, Karen Blass, accompanied Bonds to New York.
The number of contestants was gradually whittled down to 14 — seven women and seven men, including Bonds, who danced, sang and played the piano during the show until his dream ground to a halt July 5.