From the moment Voices of Our City Choir took the stage on Tuesday’s “America’s Got Talent” season 15 premiere, it was clear they weren’t your traditional choir group. The assembly of singers, from all ages, races and backgrounds, were artists whose backstories and talent earned them the first Golden Buzzer honour of the season.
Choir founder Steph Johnson spoke with the judges before their performance and explained how, four years ago, she decided to bring together homeless performers living in shelters and on the streets of San Diego to give them a voice.
“There were so many people living in shelters in my neighbourhood, I met musicians and singers, and I was like, ‘Wow, we could put together a group and sing together,'” Johnson explained. “Most people in the choir, they can’t afford medicine, they can’t afford rent, so we help them out, and through the money that we’ve raised, we’ve helped people get off the street.”
“It’s hard, trying to get it together, and people look at you like you’re dirt,” one of the singers shared in a pre-taped segment that played before their performance.
“I’ve had a lot of bad experiences out there. Beat up, robbed. But who is going to listen to me?” another woman in the choir added. “I thank God for Voices of Our City Choir. Somebody wants to hear from me, and I’ll be singing loud.”
Speaking with host Terry Crews backstage before they went on, he marvelled at how the group of singers “represent so many people who are underrepresented or not represented.”
“The arts saved me in so many ways, and let me tell you, you are going to encourage and inspire so many people today,” he added, pepping them up before they went on.
For their big number, Johnson explained they would be performing an original song, “Sounds of the Sidewalk”, which was written as part of the Voices of Our City Choir songwriting workshop, and the emotional number earned a standing ovation from the entire theatre, including all four judges.
“That was beautiful!” newcomer judge Sofia Vergara shared with a smile. “I think we need more people like you that are really taking matters into their own hands. It was fantastic.”
“Homelessness is pervasive all over the world, but it’s huge in this country and we need to solve this problem and come together,” Howie Mandel chimed in. “Who you are and what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, it blows me and the entire audience away.”
“There is no question or doubt that there is strength in numbers,” Simon Cowell said of the ensemble. “What we have here is a collection of really talented people, and we need that raw talent to begin with. And that’s what we got.”
“We live in a world at the moment where there is so much talking, but you’ve actually made something happen,” Cowell added.
“Simon, I gotta stop you right now,” Crews said, walking onto the stage and down to the judges table. “You said there’s nothing but talk going on, but it’s time to make something happen, right now, for everybody on this stage.”
“What they did today has moved me to this point right now,” Crews added, before slamming the Golden Buzzer and bringing the entire choir to tears of joy.
Crews got choked up as well while speaking with the singers backstage after giving them the Golden Buzzer.
“We love you guys, and I’m honoured to help you today,” Crews shared. “What you’re doing right now is beyond. It’s totally beyond, and you deserve it.”
With the Golden Buzzer, Voices of Our City Choir will bypass the next round of the competition and move forward to the live rounds — which will be different than ever before given the complications surrounding the coronavirus crisis and subsequent production shutdowns.
“America’s Got Talent” airs Tuesdays.
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