Marietta’s Cristina Rae has been trying to make a living as a singer for more than a decade.
She worked on cruise ships. She did burlesque shows in New York City. She sang back up for bigger artists. She tried five years ago to kick-start a solo career by moving to Atlanta from her native Nashville. To pay the bills, she also runs a business doing body contouring, which is non-invasive fat removal.
After failing to get far on“The Voice” and “American Idol,” the NBC hit summer show “America’s Got Talent” finally gave her a shot. She taped her performance in front of a studio audience in Los Angeles just before the pandemic hit and was rewarded a “Golden Buzzer” from judge Heidi Klum.
That buzzer allows her to skip the next round and moves her to what are normally the live rounds. Her segment ended the Tuesday’s episode, the third of the season. (Most of the initial auditions were filmed before production was shut down for COVID-19.)
“I need this to change my life,” Cristina said on air to the judges. “I’m a single mom, and I was living in my vehicle while pregnant before I gave birth to my son... This will put us in my own home instead of just family situations. I want him to have his own room.”
Right now, she is living with her aunt in Marietta while in quarantine. She is hoping the show will help her generate some momentum to propel her career.
Cristina’s musical interests cover several genres including rock, R&B and opera.
On the show, she first gave a bracing version of Phil Collins’ atmospheric “In the Air Tonight.” The “AGT” audience jumped to their feet while rapt host Terry Crews held her three-year-old son Jeremiah.
Judge and show producer Simon Cowell asked her to sing a second song. She then gave an intense performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and the crowd went wild again.
When she finished, Simon gave her a thumbs up and the four judges stood.
Judge Sofia Vergara said she got goosebumps. Howie Mandel said they handed her this house (metaphorically), and she blew the roof off. Cowell said her voice is “insanely good. There is absolutely no point making shows like this unless we find people like you.”
Heidi Klum then gave her the Golden Buzzer, which each judge is allowed to do once. Cristina fell to her knees as confetti dropped from the rafters. Simon jumped on stage and hugged her, saying: “You might be one of the best singers we’ve ever had.”
As she left the stage, she told her son, “We did it baby! We did it!”
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week, Cristina said her life was starting to look up even before “AGT” gave her a yes. On February 11, she won the amateur competition at the famed Apollo in Harlem. The next day, she got the call from “AGT.”
She said the Phil Collins tune brings back warm memories of her childhood as family members sang that song on the way to Amway meetings. “We’d be in the car and jamming out!” she said.
Cristina said she hasn’t always gotten support from friends and families to pursue her music career, cautioning her about the realities and challenges. “They’ve seen it as a hobby, especially family,” she said.
She said the inability to do more “AGT” performances in front of a live audience and the judges is disappointing.
“But just to be part of this show is a huge blessing,” she said. “I’m grateful. I’m excited. This really is a dream come true. I’ve had so many no’s over the years. Things change and manifest. It says a lot about endurance. I never gave up on this.”
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.