This year has been tough on everyone including Hollywood. Take for instance the most popular summer talent show, America’s Got Talent, which began its 15th season just like every other year. They brought back Heidi Klum as a judge and added Sofia Vergara. They had new special effects to use on the stage. Things were going great. And then the pandemic hit. First they had to continue auditions without an audience. Then Heidi got sick and had to sit out for awhile. Then they had to close up shop completely and judge contestants from their own homes. The show had to air reruns of previous episodes to fill in the gaps. Then the show continued but on the backlot of Universal Studios with the judges sitting at many feet away from each other sitting in front of a large screen. When they are finally able to go back to the main stage, they had to do so with a virtual audience consisting of hundreds of TV screens. Then Simon hurt his back and had to bow out for the rest of the season. Kelly Clarkson filled in for awhile and then it was decided that Howie Mandel, Klum and Vergara would just have to judge the show without him. It was a real example of how “the show must go on.”
Despite the many setbacks, season 15 of AGT managed to put on a good show with state-of-the-art techniques and allowing contestants to perform around various Universal Studios sets in the backlot. That worked so well, I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes a regular feature for the show. The only real downside was the absence of Cowell. Though the show would mention him from time to time, no real updates were given on his condition after breaking his back from a fall from an electric bike.
Finally, the show came to an end last night crowning this season’s winner, but in grand AGT style, that wasn’t going to happen before some final performances of the 10 remaining contestants pairing each of them with special guests including Blake Shelton, OneRepublic, Ava Max, Bishop Briggs, JP Saxe, Julia Michaels and Pastor Marvin Winans. The season finale also featured a special appearance from Usher, who opened the show with a performance medley filmed around the Universal lot and season 14 finalist Detroit Youth Choir. Again, no update on Cowell which I thought was a huge misstep for the show. (By the way, recent reports say that he has been taking a few steps but still has a long way to full recovery.)
After eliminating five contestants, just fiver others remained on stage: Archie Williams, Cristina Rae, Broken Roots, Roberta Battaglia and Brandon Leake; all of them are singers except for Leake who has been the show’s only performer to choose to show off his spoken word talent during its 15-year run.
In the end, it was Leake who won the competition winning the $1 million grand prize and the opportunity to perform at Luxor Las Vegas.
Leake has mesmerized viewers around the world all season with his powerful and very personal poetry, providing a window to his soul with each and every performance. His initial audition, in which he performed about the loss of his little sister when he was a child, earned him the Golden Buzzer from judge Howie Mandel and the admiration of viewers around the world. His subsequent performances addressed uplifting and additional serious topical subjects, including his strained relationship with his father and the power of forgiveness, new baby daughter and the joys of parenthood, and his mother’s fears raising a young black man in today’s society and in light of recent headlines concerning Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and George Floyd.
The 27-year old Stockton, Calif., native is an award-winning poet, artist educator and motivational speaker. His creative mix of art, charisma and passion, which is tailored to his own unique personal narrative, has taken him around the world. During his recent “The Dark Side Tour,” Leake traveled to New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and 36 states around the U.S. to promote his first published poetry book and his “crown jewel” piece, “Deficients: A Tale From My Dark Side.” Leake is also the founder and CEO of Called to Move – CTM, an artistry organization with the pursuit of aiding youth development through the art of poetry.
Main Image: (l-r) Archie Williams, Cristina Rae, Broken Roots, Roberta Battaglia, Brandon Leake — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.