'America's Got Talent' Live Show: Musical Acts Amanda Mena, Angel City Chorale, Courtney Hadwin & Flau'Jae Rule the Night
Simon Cowell has spoken. Though America’s Got Talent is home to a variety of acts this season – magicians, a death defying escape artist, eclectic dance groups, human fountains -- the music mogul thinks a singer will take the title this year. “I have a feeling that will happen this year, yes,” he told Billboard on the red carpet following Tuesday night’s (Aug. 14) live show.
In fact, Cowell wouldn’t be surprised if three of the acts from the first live show were to end up in the finals. He has his eye on one in particular, prodigy singer Courtney Hadwin. “Amazing! You don’t see that very often. And at 13 years old!” he proclaimed.
The young performer was the talk of the carpet backstage and clearly a favorite from the night. Klum praised the adolescent vocalist for being authentic. “She said that people don’t get her and they look at her funny or they laugh at her. And I love that she’s just sticking to who she is and more people should be like that,” she explained.
Howie Mandel, who hit his Golden Buzzer for the budding star, was walking around like a proud papa, basking in the glow of Hadwin’s successful night. “I would predict that her name is going to be all over Billboard charts real soon,” he boldly predicted. And mogul Clive Davis apparently sends his blessing as well. Mandel revealed that following the AGT auditions, he received a call from the famed music exec who praised his Golden Buzzer choice. “So to hear it from the man himself…” said Mandel, with a grin that finished his statement.
Following Tuesday’s live show, Hadwin was still processing the evening. “It’s a bit overwhelming. I just didn’t expect it,” she said, of her rave reviews from her evening’s performance of James Brown's "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag." The singer, who has been described as the reincarnated Janis Joplin, said regardless of what happens with her time on AGT, she wants to do music full time. “And if I don’t get to do music as big as I want to, I want to become a vocal coach,” she said, noting that when she first started singing, she sounded like “a cat” but credits her vocal coach for pushing her through. She grinned at the mention of being “not from this era,” and said she’d love to duet with Joplin or Tina Turner, and revealed that her dream would have been “to perform at Woodstock.”
Another act that stirred up some buzz on Tuesday night was the Human Fountains Singing Group. After their signature maneuver of spitting water into each other’s mouths, the duo took things a step further, sliding a hot dog into the mix. The group hit the carpet, post show, covered in mustard. A known germophobe, Mandel managed to make it through the performance without leaving the building, but admitted to being pushed over the edge when he playfully spit water in the vicinity of Mel B, who reciprocated. “I’m just so thrilled that I’m not part of the group… until Mel B spit on me and made me part of the group,” he said. “People say what is your ritual after a show? After this show I’m going home to disinfect.”
While they do enjoy getting a rise out of Mandel, the group insists that their antics are all in good fun. “For us, it’s figuring out how to make America laugh and smile,” said the group’s Ben Tillis, who declared that the gang is ready for Las Vegas. “There is already one foundation show in Vegas and we think it’s about time there’s two.”
Sin City is far from the mission of the Angel City Chorale Choir, who hope to use their time on the show to inspire donations that can help with their charitable endeavors, such as bringing kids over from Africa to experience music in the United States. But if they take home the title, they wouldn’t say no to the experience. “Isn’t it time a choir took Las Vegas?,” said artistic director, Sue Fink, who joked that she plans to steal a few pairs of glittery high heels from the Junior New System Dance Group for the occasion after the group inspired once again with their stirring version of "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman.
Another performer who wowed on Tuesday night was Flau’jae, who crushed it with her powerful original rhyme "Letdowns." The 14-year-old Savannah-based rapper talked to Billboard about how being on season 3 of The Rap Game helped to prepare her for AGT’s colossal stage. “It really gave me that reassurance I needed. It helped me build myself up to where I am now Shout out to Jermaine Dupri. He’s always helping, always with me consistently helping me build bulid build,” she said.
And, following the show, close up magician, Shin Lim, was on cloud nine from his performance. “I played where The Oscars are held!” he told Billboard. “If I make it to the semis, the next act I am going to perform is my favorite. I’ve been saving it and I can’t wait to show America the act.”
Cowell came down on We Three Family Band for needing to change up their stage show and that’s exactly what the group plans to do next week after he didn't love their original song "So They Say." “We have a very fun side that we’re excited to show America,” Joshua Humlie revealed. But regardless of the criticism, the group enjoyed themselves. “We had a blast. We just felt like we had a ton of fun up there, which is all part of it,” said Bethany Blanchard.
Lord Nil was happy to still be alive after his daring underwater escape. Backstage, he revealed that his wife dropping the pin was “not part of the act” and that he is still trying to find the sweet spot between not scaring Mel B to death but also making his stunts edgy enough. Comedian Vicki Barbolak, who was still high on her “trailer nasty” bit said she’s going to heed Mel B’s advice to spice up her act but not at the expense of her younger fans. “I want to be edgy but I also know there are a bunch of kids watching because I’m hearing from them. We’ll just find the right balance. That’s my prayer,” she explained.
And Mel B could not stop raving about her favorite act, her Golden Buzzer who she deems “Lil Mel,” 15-year-old singer Amanda Mena, who wowed the crowd with a bilingual cover of "What About Us" by Pink. “She’s amazing. It’s up to America but she’s performed in front of millions of people tonight so no matter which way it goes tomorrow, she’s been seen and she’s been heard. And that’s all that matters,” Mel said.
Cowell expanded upon his comment from the show where he suggested that Mena join a group. “There are certain people that come on this show at this age where you think ‘I don’t think you are going to win. So what advice can I constructively give you if you don’t win?’” he said, crediting the solo success of artists like former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello and One Direction's Harry Styles to starting off by learning the ropes within a group.
“Solo or in a group, whatever makes me a better artist I’ll do. I just want to learn and grow,” Mena told Billboard. She revealed that, if given the chance to stay on the show, she’s hoping to be able to sing an original song she wrote called “Come Over,” which is about a love story that blossoms after a guy helps a girl through a tough time.
Cowell admitted that he stays in touch with One Direction and that he’s crossing his fingers that the group reunites sooner rather than later. “I would love to get them back together again but it’s up to them,” he said. The AGT judge added that for the moment, the group’s members are enjoying their time off but says that when they do reunite, it will be huge. “Personally, I think they would enjoy it more the second time around because they haven’t got anything to prove. They know there would be a demand for it and I think it would be more fun. So guys. Just do it!” he exclaimed. He revealed that he’s also pulling for the rumored reunion of The Spice Girls, the group he once famously passed on. “If they were [reuniting], I’d like to be involved. But they keep falling out so I haven’t got a clue,” he said.
Until then, former Spice Girl Mel B is keeping herself busy by bantering with her AGT costars. Before exiting the carpet, she and Mandel engaged in a playful game of “who spit on whom,” with Mandel insisting that he “spit in the vicinity of Mel B” and Mel B countering with “No. You spit on me so that’s why I spit on you.” The battle ended with Mel threatening to tackle her costar right there, in her heels. Mandel laughed and quietly conceded, later joking that as soon as he got home he was going to have to seriously up his disinfecting game.
Watch some of the night's best performances below.