Reading Time: 4 minutes

Despite all the drama occurring on Capitol Hill right now, the new year has also reminded us that some things will never change, like Christians rewriting old songs like “Eye of the Tiger” to spread the Gospel message:

That’s the sort of “Christianized” song you might hear in a lot of modern evangelical services. Or bootleg versions of Hamilton. And, for better or worse, both performers took their roles seriously. Maybe too seriously for the internet.

It didn’t take long before clips of that performance began circulating on social media. People commented on the man’s physique, the woman’s apparent technicolor dress, the way they looked at each other (which would be awkward if they were siblings and not a couple), the lack of enthusiasm from the mostly elderly crowd, and the guy’s attempt to throw a shirt into the audience only for it to get as far as… Row 1.

More than anything, viewers just cringed.

It didn’t help that one of the most popular clips online included the words “(Chrstian Version)”—with the misspelling—which some commenters used to mock the performers even though they had nothing to do with it.

The viral clip gave exvangelicals and other critics of Christian culture the opportunity for a very easy dunk:

  • “Once again, I find myself thinking that maybe the Reformation was a mistake…” (link)
  • “It’s said that this song plays endlessly on repeat during Armageddon” (link)
  • “I have made poor life choices that lead me to watching this video. Now you must also suffer.” (link)
  • “What in the Righteous Gemstones is going on here?!!!” (link)
  • “We DO NOT deserve to survive as a species…” (link)
  • “Protestants, you have to answer for this abomination.” (link)
  • “This is what happens when the senior pastor tells the worship team ‘do whatever you want’ and doesn’t check back.” (link)

I know I had some of those same thoughts. Why would a church do this? Who are these people? Why is this happening in the Year of Our Lord 2023?

So I asked them.

On Friday night, Nick and Haley Gaglione spoke with me about how the virality of this clip took them by surprise even though they were hoping people would watch and enjoy it.

It won’t surprise you to learn that they’re both devoutly religious. Haley grew up in a Charismatic church in Oklahoma and remains a Charismatic Christian. She spent time performing in Branson, Missouri and still sings tributes to Karen Carpenter. Nick was raised as a Catholic in Akron, Ohio before later shifting to a Pentecostal church; these days, he’s non-denominational and focuses on his “relationship with God.” He wants to tell people about how “Christ resembles anything that is love” and uses fitness as a vehicle to share his faith.

It also won’t surprise you that they’re both very conservative, the kind of people who support Donald Trump (and, back in the day, Rick Santorum), believe homosexuality is a sin, and think atheism is usually the result of being “hurt by the church.”

After they got married last Valentine’s Day, they decided to combine their skills and become a kind of “tag team ministering” act, called “2 For Christ,” with Haley singing and Nick speaking. Their first gig was this past August, for a church-sponsored night of entertainment in Wintersville, Ohio, and they jumped at the opportunity. Knowing it was meant to be a family-friendly event, they put together a set list that included a variety of songs and an inspirational message… but they figured they should do something special for a closing act. Something that involved both of them and got people really pumped up.

Nick doesn’t sing but he thought he could do a decent job rapping. So they collaborated on lyrics to add to a Christian version of “Eye of the Tiger” that Haley had already written. They didn’t get a ton of reaction from the crowd in the moment (as you could see in the clip), but they told me they got plenty of positive response afterwards. They even posted video of the entire event in October so people could see what one of their shows looked like… only to get a couple hundred views.

YouTube video

The video was fated to go down a Black Hole of YouTube until Nick clipped just the “Eye of the Tiger” bit and posted that on its own on December 28. It began racking up views immediately. (As I was about the publish this, that video got taken down due to a copyright claim. But you can see it in the above video around the 30:26 mark.)

At the time, most of the comments were just amusing. People jokingly dubbed Nick “Vanilla Christ.” The critics were mostly anonymous. But when the clip began getting picked up by strangers on TikTok and elsewhere, it was suddenly out of their control.

What was frustrating to them was seeing certain comments questioning their decisions without the ability to answer people.

Why did Nick run into the crowd? Because the alternative was dancing in place while Haley sang, and he thought that would look awkward.

What was up with Haley’s rainbow clothing? Earlier in the performance, she sang Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.”

Was this during church? Nope, it was part of an entertainment event for a Christian audience.

Why were they performing that song for this crowd? They believed the audience would involve a lot of parents bringing their children and tailored their performance to that crowd. It was only when they arrived that they realized the age range skewed much higher… (but the show must go on!)

More than anything, I was curious if they were aware that there’s a whole world of cringeworthy Christian performances that go viral online, especially among former Christians. They weren’t. They were just two people hoping to deliver an enjoyable performance to a like-minded audience and that’s exactly what it had been… until the clip began spreading beyond their circles.

Nick said he was grateful for anyone who responded at all, critics or not. He wanted people to engage with it, and they are, so all publicity is good publicity. Haley’s had moments where her clips have gone viral but not necessarily one where she was at the center of attention like this “Eye of the Tiger” cover.

As we spoke, they were getting ready for their next gig and trying to figure out what song they’d close that performance with. Nick was just taking the unexpected attention in stride: “You know, at the end of the day, as long as her and I feel like we’re doing the Lord’s work, and we’re able to have a smile when doing it, I’m open to whatever God’s will is for us.”

Avatar photo

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.