INTERVIEW: Bullied Atlanta saxophonist Avery Dixon in finals of ‘America’s Got Talent’

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

He was bullied as a child and found refuge in his sax.

Atlanta saxophonist Avery Dixon will be one of 11 acts vying for $1 million Tuesday night on the live performance show of “America’s Got Talent.”

The winner will be named Wednesday.

An instrumentalist of any kind has never won the competition and Dixon is a decided underdog. (UPDATE: He did not win. Dance troupe The Mayyas took home the prize.) But making it this far, to Dixon, has been a major win for him.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Dixon in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. “I feel alive!”

The 21-year-old Atlantan is the first solo saxophonist to ever appear on the show in its history, much less the first one to make it to the finals.

A premature baby, he was bullied at school over his raspy voice and knots in his head. “I wanted to commit suicide,” he said on the show. But he found solace in the saxophone at age nine. He was so small at the time, he needed help carrying the instrument.

But he was a natural and was inspired by the likes of jazz artists Cannonball Adderley and Angélla Christie. He later learned his great-grandfather was a jazz arranger, composer and saxophonist who worked with legends like B.B. King and Etta James.

He graduated Georgia Cyber Academy in 2019, landing a full music scholarship at Andrew College in Cuthbert. Unfortunately, “it was an awful experience,” he said. He dropped out after a year and a half and considered quitting music for good.

Instead, his mom Lisa and brother Cortez tricked him into doing a virtual performance, which they sent in as an audition tape to “America’s Got Talent.” He had no idea and was shocked when producers wanted to hear more.

“I didn’t think I was good enough,” he told Terry Crews on the show before his initial TV audition. On stage, he needed to guzzle water before he started.

But once he started his performance, the crowd and judges jumped to their feet and at the end, he received a standing ovation. “I love you buddy!” said judge Howie Mandel. “You need to be here. You are supported to be here. You will change the world.”

“When you play with your instrument, you play with your heart,” added fellow judge Heidi Klum.

Simon Cowell: “It’s in your blood. This is your destiny.”

And when emotional host Terry Crews gave Dixon the Golden Buzzer, guaranteeing him a spot on the live shows, Dixon said life became a blur. “I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “I could only see through teary, blurry eyes.”

Crews told him, “Your talent did this!”

Dixon followed up with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” in August that got him the votes to make it into the finals.

“I just focused and blew it all out,” he said. “I had to go pray backstage. It’s what I do when I’m nervous.”

Dixon, in his Tuesday performance, does a version of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.”

“Brilliant song choice,” Cowell said. “You really nailed it.”

He said he’s psyched for the finale, win or lose.

“I can’t wait for the audience reaction,” he said. “It’s going to just be fun being back on stage representing my hometown.”

After the show is over, he plans to keep playing, to tour and record music and pursue what he loves. The validation from the show, he said, was real.

IF YOU WATCH

“America’s Got Talent,” finale live performances 8 p.m. Tuesday, season finale results 9 p.m. Wednesday on NBC, available on Peacock the next day

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