KAYSVILLE — Mat Shaw was working in the backyard when his 15-year-old daughter surprised him with a question. 

“Can you sing ‘The Prayer’ with me?” Savanna Shaw asked her dad. “I don’t want to sing my first song alone.” 

The teenager had created an Instagram account — her first dive into the social media world — to keep in touch with her choir friends amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

For her first post, she was going to sing “The Prayer” — a hopeful song made famous by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. She had loved “The Prayer” for as long as she could remember. But she was nervous and wanted her dad, who often sings around the house in Kaysville to join her. 

“She wanted me to freshen up,” said Mat Shaw, who at the time was wearing a Brigham Young University ball cap and an old family reunion T-shirt. “I was like, ‘Savanna, your choir friends aren’t going to care what I’m wearing. It’s not a big deal.’” 

Brooke Shaw fixes her daughter Savanna Shaw’s hair while she and her father Mat Shaw prepare to record a cover of the song “Shallow” in their family’s home on Thursday, May 14, 2020. The father-daughter duets went viral on YouTube as they shared their passion for music amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “The one thing more contagious than a virus is hope and so we’re just doing our small part in the world to spread some hope,” Mat Shaw said. | Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

So they forged ahead and recorded and posted their own rendition of “The Prayer.” Within a few days, after later posting the video to Facebook, Mat Shaw sent a screenshot to his daughter. He had circled the number of views: 2,700. 

“You’re not going to believe this,” he told his daughter. “Sixty people have shared the video!” 

But that was just the beginning.

The numbers kept rising. And rising. And rising.

The video has surpassed 6 million views.

“He should’ve changed his clothes,” Savanna said with a laugh. 

Since recording “The Prayer” in late February, the father-daughter duo has performed a number of songs together — everything from “Beauty and the Beast” to “The Phantom of the Opera” to “The Greatest Showman.” A handful of the duets have reached more than 1 million views. 

The Shaws, who now have 385,000 YouTube subscribers, have also caught national attention from outlets like “Good Morning America” and “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” Their names now show up on Google. They were even recently interviewed on a morning news show in Japan.

“I really genuinely only thought that my friends and my family were going to see it,” Savanna Shaw recently told the Deseret News during a Zoom call. “And I think if I would’ve known how big it would get, I probably would’ve been a lot more nervous. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know that.”

Before the Shaws went viral, Savanna was a shy singer in a local choir building her confidence. And Mat was a busy father of four who had put music on the back burner.

But together, they had an unexpected rise to fame.

Breaking out of a shell

Savanna Shaw still gets nervous when she and her dad post a new video (their YouTube channel now features 17 songs). But the fact that she pushes past the nerves tells her she’s come a long way. 

“Savanna’s always been a little bit shy with her music,” Mat Shaw said. “It was surprising because after having posted these songs, some of her good friends didn’t even know that she could sing like that.” 

Recently, the Broadway-loving teenager — who claims to have watched “The Phantom of the Opera” every day since staying at home — joined a new youth choir at the Hale Centre Theatre

Through this group, led by choir director Kelly DeHaan, Shaw made new friends. And she started to feel more comfortable sharing her voice and standing in the spotlight. 

But amid the pandemic, the choir rehearsals Shaw always looked forward to were now canceled. The teenager — the oldest child in the family — had to find a new way to share her passion for music. So with the help of her parents, she got on social media and put herself out in the world. 

“You wonder how many talented, undiscovered people there are out there that just need somebody to be their support and encouragement, and help them be brave enough to just put themselves out there,” Mat Shaw said. “And you wonder how many wonderful messages we’re missing out on just because people are worried that maybe they won’t be accepted, or they’re too shy or they’re worried about criticism.

“To break out of that shell and just say, ‘Here I am. This is my voice, take it or leave it,’ … it’s just amazing to be able to have the courage to do that,” he continued. “It was scary, but we’re very glad that (Savanna) decided to do that. And we’re so proud of her.”

Mat Shaw listens to Savanna Shaw recording her part of their cover of the song “Shallow” inside a closet in their family’s home on Thursday, May 14, 2020. The father-daughter duets went viral on YouTube as they shared their passion for music amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “The one thing more contagious than a virus is hope and so we’re just doing our small part in the world to spread some hope,” Mat Shaw said. | Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

Rekindling a dream

Mat Shaw always loved singing. As a child, he had dreams of recording music and being on Broadway. 

But that all changed when his dad died. He was 14 years old.

After his father’s death, his family suffered some financial hardships and moved from Los Angeles to Kaysville. 

In high school, Shaw kept his passion alive singing in choirs and participating in musical theater. He even attended Weber State University on a vocal performance scholarship, although his major was accounting. After graduation, music fell to the wayside as he began to focus more on his real estate business and his growing family.

“I really didn’t do much with (music) for a big chunk of time,” he said. “My priority was to make sure that my family was secure and taken care of, and I knew music wasn’t going to do that for my family.” 

Savanna Shaw and Mat Shaw record a cover of the song “Shallow” in their family’s home on Thursday, May 14, 2020. The father-daughter duets went viral on YouTube as they shared their passion for music amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “The one thing more contagious than a virus is hope and so we’re just doing our small part in the world to spread some hope,” Mat Shaw said. | Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

But he never stopped singing around the house. And hearing her dad’s voice — one that many people online have compared to Josh Groban — inspired Savanna Shaw to sing. Until recently, though, the two had never thought to put their voices together. 

“After recording (‘The Prayer’) and then listening to it, we were like, ‘Wow, we really have similar voices, and our vibrato is similar,” Mat Shaw said. “It’s this similar tone that really you can only get from genetics. … Performing with my daughter is like beyond my wildest dreams.”

Spreading joy 

Millions of people have now heard Mat and Savanna Shaw sing together — something the father and daughter are still having a hard time wrapping their heads around. 

“We’ve grown up hearing each other sing and we certainly appreciate each other’s talents, but to think that so many other people would also appreciate our voices has been so surprising,” Mat Shaw said. 

The Shaws aren’t tech-savvy — it took them hours to upload their first video to YouTube. 

They’ve also never stepped foot in a studio. For the singing duo, it all starts in a closet — what Mat Shaw calls his “quarantine recording studio.” 

“It’s real fancy,” Savanna Shaw said with a laugh. 

A little mic, propped up by a pair of pajama pants, plugs into an iPad. The Shaws practice and record themselves singing in this closet space, away from the daily chaos of home learning. Then, at the kitchen table, they film a video singing along to that recording. 

“We really don’t know what we’re doing,” Mat Shaw said with a laugh. “Maybe that’s the draw, is that it’s really just a simple offering from a dad and his daughter trying to spread some hope and some joy.” 

On the Shaws’ many YouTube videos, thousands of people — including nurses and people who have lost loved ones — have left comments of gratitude. Many have said the music is helping them get through an otherwise dark time. 

Brooke Shaw and Pennie Jean Shaw, 6, listen to Mat Shaw and Savanna Shaw while they record a cover of the song “Shallow” in their family’s home on Thursday, May 14, 2020. The father-daughter duets went viral on YouTube as they shared their passion for music amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I love it because before all of this they never sang together and so this is new and just really special for our family,” Brooke said. Pennie Jean said listening to her sister and father singing helps her fall asleep. | Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

The Shaws said one person reached out and told them their version of “The Prayer” was played at the funeral of a relative who died from COVID-19. A couple contacted them and said they played the Shaws’ music at their wedding. One man was even trying to use the Shaws’ music to win back his girlfriend. 

“It means a lot just to be able to be in a position now — especially in the times that we’re experiencing with this pandemic — to be able to share these messages of hope and encouragement through music,” Mat Shaw said. “Never in a million dreams would we have ever thought that our music would have this kind of impact. That’s been the best part.”