Cody Bell, 18, Altona Meadows, Vic
When life gets you down and you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, you turn to anything that helps ease the pain. Some people choose self-destructive methods like drugs or alcohol, but for me, it's music that's my saviour. It has always been a part of my life.
I remember running around the living room singing Tina Arena and Cher. My mum, Tania, always said I had a great voice, but I never believed her. Back then I didn't care what I sounded like. It was all about the elation I felt whenever a song came on that I liked.
But years later, music played a more important role in my life. It helped me escape the bullies' taunts that constantly replayed in my head. You see, I've always been a bigger kid. When I was younger it never seemed to matter. My parents showered me with love and in a way, I thought that others would do the same. But when I got to high school, that couldn't have been further from the truth.
Just getting through each day was a battle. Some kids would pick on me for my size, calling me a fat pig, among other horrible things. I hated being there. Each bell that rang was a relief, because it signalled I was one step closer to going home. The following day, though, the torment would start all over again.
But the nights were just as bad. Too embarrassed to tell Mum about the bullies, I'd race home and shut myself away. I knew Mum was worried but I was too ashamed to tell her that the kids at school didn't enjoy my company as much as she did.
Holed up in my room, I'd play my guitar and sing for hours. Each song would take me further away from the bullies' harsh words. Enveloped in the music, I was trying my best to sing my troubles away. But in the morning, reality returned.
Some days, it became too much to face and while Mum went off to work, I'd stay huddled under the doona away from the world. Eventually, the school rang Mum and she sat me down one night to get to the bottom of it. After years of bottling my emotions, it all came out. I was a blubbering mess but even then I couldn't bring myself to tell Mum just how bad it was. It was too mortifying. But Mum had heard enough to know she had to do something.
How to deal with bullies
She spoke to the school, then she took me to professional counselling. I was also put on anti-depressants. It all helped, but not as much as music did. There was something about it that made me forget the shy, miserable person I was. In Year Nine, a school concert was being organised and Mum suggested that I perform.
At first, it seemed like a terrible idea. I pictured all the bullies pointing and laughing at my large frame up on stage - singing would just leave me open to even more ridicule. What if I was terrible? But Mum believed in me and convinced me to give it a go.
I still remember how petrified I was walking on stage. My palms were sweaty and I wasn't sure my voice would hold it together. But the minute I opened my mouth and belted out the first line, the audience looked on in stunned silence. When the song finished, there was a massive round of applause. It felt great.
For once I was getting praised instead of teased. Amazingly, after that, the bullies seemed to leave me alone. If I had known singing would make them stop, I would have performed much earlier! That one performance also gave me confidence and made me want to pursue music as a full-time career. But Mum convinced me to finish school first.
Not long after I graduated, I decided to audition for AGT. It was petrifying walking on stage in front of the judges, but that was nothing compared to performing in front of all my bullies. Hearing the crowd roar the minute I sang the first line was such a relief, and all of a sudden I melted into the song, unable to see or hear anything else.
After I sang the last line, the judges and audience gave me a standing ovation. I'd never felt more amazing. Not only was I showing Australia what I had to offer, I was using my voice to fight back at the bullies, showing them I was anything but the loser they'd always told me I was.
I'm so thrilled to have made it through to the next round of the competition. The other acts are incredible but no matter how far I get on AGT, deep down I feel like I've already won.