'America's Got Talent' judge Howie Mandel hits Golden Buzzer for spoken-word poet Brandon Leake
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 07/01/2020
America's Got Talentfeatured the fifth Golden-Buzzer recipient, powerful spoken-word artist Brandon Leake who moved the judges without even having an in-studio audience due to COVID-19, during Tuesday night's Season 15 auditions episode on NBC.
Not only was AGT judge Heidi Klum out due to illness, but there was also no audience for the performers for the first time in America's Got Talent history due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In Brandon's background package, he disclosed, "I did grow up in a neighborhood where drugs and gang violence were rampant. My mom worked 15 different jobs to make that sure I was provided for."
"When I was four," he continued, "my little sister was born. I don't think I really understood what being an older brother meant at four years old; I just knew that this little person was here."
"My family very much insulated me into this very loving household, and then when I became a teenager, there became this anger. And what I did was I let all that frustration out through creativity. Writing was most certainly an escape," Brandon explained.
Brandon also revealed he has a daughter, his first child, who was only 14 days old at the time of his audition.
"I want to be able to do what I love, to be able to create my own schedule and to be able to make sure I give her the best experience of having a father around that I possibly can," Brandon told the cameras.
"I do like my job, but in terms of my passion and what I would love to do, it's being able to turn my heart into my full-time work."
Brandon then stepped onstage for the judges and an empty theater. This was America's Got Talent's first taped show when coronavirus precautions were being implemented.
When Brandon introduced himself, he said he was excited to bring poetry to the judges and viewers watching at home.
"I don't really understand poetry, I'm going to be honest with you," Simon admitted.
"I'm a great intro for you," Brandon insisted. "I bring in experience, things that everyday people go through."
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Simon asked Brandon how he could transform his small act into a big-stage performance if he happened to win America's Got Talent, and Brandon noted his "huge aspiration" is to "put on my own, large-production and one-man show."
Brandon went on to say that he only performs material he writes himself and his audition was intended to be "an ode to my sister."
"Are you close to your sister?" Howie asked.
"Very much. She's here with me now," Brandon responded.
"Oh, she's backstage?" Howie asked.
"Kind of," Brandon replied cryptically, before beginning his poem.
Brandon shared in his poem that his little sister, Danielle Marie Gibson, died on March 23, 1997 when she was only nine months old.
Listeners could feel Brandon's pain through his words when he said he felt haunted by thoughts of her passing but would always remember her smile, which was "wide as the universe," and her eyes, which "glimmered like the stars."
Brandon expressed how Danielle's presence on this earth helped shape him into the man he is today and taught him about selfless love.
Howie and Simon gave Brandon a standing ovation for his poem that almost felt like it was set to music, and Sofia was noticeably tearing up at the judges' table.
"My brother passed away the same year that your sister passed away," Sofia shared.
"I can feel your pain, I know what this is, I know what it is to have someone taken from you without you knowing. But it was very beautiful for me."
"What an amazing tribute," Simon said.
"There's something very, very special about you, really. This is a very difficult thing to judge, and I shouldn't be judging it. I just want to compliment you on what you just did, because it was extraordinary."
And Howie explained, "It's amazing to me that, on Season 15, it's the first time that we're hearing somebody of spoken word. There was something more raw in the way [you did that]. It's like singing and talking and just being a human a cappella -- no music, no nothing, just a raw heart beating in front of us."
"We feel your pain, we feel your love, and you moved me to do this," Howie added.
Howie then pressed the Golden Buzzer, and Brandon celebrated onstage as gold confetti fell from above. Howie joined Brandon onstage and called him "amazing," and Brandon said he felt "ecstatic."
When America's Got Talent host Terry Crews asked how he was feeling, Brandon gushed, "My daughter was just born and the only thing I've been thinking about is, 'Man, I don't want time to slip by being at this 9-5 while she's at home growing.' This is my shot!"
Terry told Brandon after his audition that he was about to put spoken word on "the map" and his life was going to change.
Simon, Sofia and Howie then elbow bumped Brandon onstage since shaking hands seems to be a thing of the past in light of COVID-19 and social-distancing measures to prevent spreading the virus.
The Golden Buzzer will automatically advance Brandon toAmerica's Got Talent's Season 15 live shows in whatever form they eventually take.
In the last five weeks of audition episodes, Simon hit the Golden Buzzer for New York dance group WAFFLE Crew, Heidi pressed the buzzer for 30-year-old singer Cristina Rae, Sofia gave her one Golden Buzzer to 10-year-old singer Roberta Battaglia, and Terry advanced Voices of Our City Choir with the opportunity.