Americans voted for spoken-word artist Brandon Leake to win the $1 million prize season 15 during the two-hour finale Wednesday.
Stockton, California, college counselor Leake, 27, is the first spoken-word poet to ever take home the prize, much less make it on the “AGT” stage at all, over 15 seasons.
Judge Howie Mandel gave Leake his “Golden Buzzer” after his riveting opening audition poem, an ode to his sister, who died young. “You’re a raw heart beating in front of us. We feel your pain. We feel your love. You moved me,” Mandel said at the time.
“What an amazing tribute,” said judge Simon Cowell, who ended up missing the final episodes this season after a freak accident. “There is something special about you.”
The buzzer sent Leake straight to the live shows. His finale poem Tuesday night was dedicated to his young daughter, who was born just a few days before his first “AGT” audition.
Leake edged out Broken Roots, a country duo, who at first didn’t make the live shows but were brought back.
Marietta’s Cristina Rae ended up finishing in third place after performing a bracing version of Imagine Dragons' “Demons” on Tuesday night’s performance finale. The producers clearly had faith she might win because they gave her the final slot of the night.
Rae, who has worked as a back-up singer and performed on cruise ships over the years, finally had her big break with “AGT.”
She has been homeless and dotes over her 3-year-old son Jeremiah. She has struggled with a lack of support from friends and family as well as her own self=esteem. Her range is vast and her voice emotes in a way that got her far in the competition. She also has eclectic taste in music and a soft heart for rock, singing “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones earlier in the competition. Judge Heidi Klum rewarded her the “Golden Buzzer” in the opening round.
After she was eliminated, Klum said, “I love you so much. I’m sorry this didn’t work out. You’re a winner in my own heart. ... We will hear you on the radio and I’ll buy your music. I’m your biggest fan.”
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 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.