PROVO — From his windowless office in the basement of Brigham Young University’s Wilkinson Student Center, David Settle radiates light.
He’s beaming with pride.
His baby — Southern Utah University graduate Keala Settle — is singing at the Oscars this Sunday.
“I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do,” David Settle said of his daughter, Keala Settle, whose powerhouse vocals as Lettie Lutz (aka the Bearded Lady) in the “The Greatest Showman” helped earn the film an Oscar nomination for best original song. “She is just so talented. It just seems like every time I talk to her, something else is coming up. I just sit in the background and watch all of it happen. I’m extremely thrilled and proud of her."
David Settle knew from an early age that his first born would be a star. As the oldest of five children, Keala Settle, her mother and siblings — all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — were “like the von Trapp family,” he said, and often performed at their local church events.
And while all the family performed, Keala Settle especially loved to be on stage — she loved to sing, and she loved to perform.
“It just came naturally to her,” David Settle said.
As he tells it, his wife, Susanne MacDonald Settle, a New Zealand woman of Maori descent, is to thank for their daughter's talent.
"I will be the first to admit all of her talent comes from her mother," David Settle said. "I’m a stick-in-the-mud English guy. Keala would readily agree that the only thing she got from me is the color of my skin."
Susanne Settle was a powerhouse performer in her own right, singing in a band in her native New Zealand before marrying. The pair met while David Settle was serving an LDS mission in New Zealand.
Carrying her love of music into their family, Susanne Settle played the ukulele at home and taught the five Settle children to sing by ear. The oldest child just kept on singing everywhere she went, daughter Kelly Settle Tufuga said, and Susanne Settle would play movie musicals to get her out of her way.
Mother and daughter were also the best of friends, as Susanne Settle was her oldest daughter's biggest cheerleader.
"One thing my mom always said to us growing up was kia kaha — which means 'be strong' in Maori," said Tufuga. "Mom always said, 'Daughter, you can do this. I have faith in you.' She pushed Keala and told her to never give up on her dreams."
From daily phone calls to Thanksgiving visits while Keala Settle was on tour with the cast of "Hairspray," Susanne Settle gave strength to her daughter, providing guidance and love.
When Susanne Settle died of cancer in 2015, the loss for the family was heartbreaking, and for Keala Settle, nearly career-ending. She was grieving while filming "The Greatest Showman" and unmoored in her life.
"When she was gone, I had to reach deep down and figure out why I was going to continue on," Keala Settle told BroadwayWorld.com. "I said, 'Hugh (Jackman), my mom is gone and I have no idea how to navigate this anymore.' And he was like, 'It's all right, babe. We got you.' And he wasn't lying."
"That’s how she’s just like my mom," Tufuga said. "Keala is a fighter and doesn’t let anybody get in her way."
That never-give-up attitude is deeply embedded in Keala Settle's signature anthem and Oscar-nominated song, "This Is Me," from "The Greatest Showman."
The song celebrates what makes people different, something Keala Settle struggled with growing up. During her school years in Hawaii, she struggle to fit in, where the majority of the population was Polynesian, Tufuga said. Being half Polynesian, with hopes of being a singer, Keala Settle was different from many of her classmates.
"She was just trying to pursue her dream, and she got picked on," Tufuga said. "But that's how it is for every kid trying to achieve their dream. Keala has held onto that and it’s been her thing that has given her a boost to push her to achieve her goals and dreams to prove those people wrong."
Having personal experience with being an outsider made Keala Settle's take on the role of Lettie Lutz so powerful, said Justin Paul, one of the songwriters of "The Greatest Showman."
"When she performs, there is just something electric and something I really do think is inspired by her personal story," Paul said in an interview with the Deseret News. "She has fought against the odds in certain ways. Performers who are unique sometimes feel like they don't fit it, but those are the performers where they are one of a kind. There is no one like them. When Keala has a chance to shine, its unlike anything."
Keala Settle will have that chance at the 90th Academy Awards in Los Angeles this Sunday, March 4.7 comments on this story
"Keala knows that every time the lights go on and the cameras roll that its for her mom," David Settle said. "Everything that she does is for her mom. And everything, when she does that, she feels her mom with her. That’s what keeps her going, knowing her mom is watching.
"I can honestly say anything that Keala has achieved and anything she will achieved in the future is for her mom. And because of her mom."
While the world will be watching, Keala Settle will be singing for one person: her mother.