Rodgers then captivated the audience with a beautiful performance of Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon In the Sky" and was met with nothing but praise from the panel. Heidi Klum said, "There is something so special about your voice," Howie Mandel exclaimed "you have real control and passion and you can be a star," and Simon Cowell had the most positive comment of all: "You are one of the best singers we’ve had in the competition so far."
To honor Rodgers' memory, Billboard has put together a list of eight other contestants on Season 12 who have faced adversity but use it as a motivator to create their art -- they would all surely make Brandon proud.
The 9-year-old Atlanta native had to overcome a major health issue to become the mini-powerhouse she is today. When she was 4, her parents found out she had double pneumonia and her kidneys began to fail. When things started to get really bad, she received a kidney transplant from her mother and made a miraculous full recovery. After Angelica delivered a flawless rendition of Andra Day’s "Rise Up" with a huge smile, Simon announced, "I feel like we might be looking at a star in the future."
While attending college studying music, Mandy Harvey -- who had been singing all her life -- got diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder that made her lose her hearing. "Everything that I had ever wanted was just going away, and I couldn’t stop it," she explained. After taking a long break from singing and not believing her dream career would ever be possible she figured out how to get back into her passion using muscle memory, visual tuners and trusting her pitch. She auditioned with an original song called "Try" about her hear loss journey. The performance was skillful and incredible, even enticing Simon to hit his golden buzzer.
When visualist Will moved to America at 15, he was immediately infatuated with the street magicians he saw. Sadly because of the language barrier, his parents were not able to get any work and he had to work multiple jobs to provide for his family. At one point this was not enough, and Will became homeless. "When I was homeless, it really reminded me of the moment I first saw the magic on the street and it gave me courage to change my life" he stated and he did! Tsai wowed the judges with his crazy magic and hand deception skills.
Junior and Emily Alabi
Brother-and-sister salsa duo could not be closer today, but when they were growing up, Junior went through a rough patch. Being raised by a single father, Junior began to party, get into fights and sell drugs, so their father pushed the siblings into taking dance classes to keep him out of trouble. Later in his childhood, Junior was still hanging out with a bad crowd and got arrested. Emily said that his life was deteriorating, and it was heartbreaking. Eventually Junior had a revelation, stating, "I couldn’t see my sister's dreams be destroyed because of me." According to Emily, dance saved Junior's life and they proved their passion in their dazzling dance performance that received four yeses.
When Christian was 6 months old, his parents received the devastating news that he was going to go completely blind -- but that didn't stop him from following his vocal dreams, performing for the first time at 9-years-old. At 12 years old, he underwent experimental gene therapy, making a remarkable recovery and regaining his sight. Christian sang a soulful and powerful version of The Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” and got Howie’s golden buzzer.
The 13-year-old is from the small town of Florence, Arizona, which she describes as having “five prisons... there is not even a grocery store, there's a fast food place and a high school, that's it.” Before she began, the teen opened up about her father’s battle with stage four colon cancer and he was given a 5 percent chance to live. She sang “Arms” by Christina Perri, dedicated to her dad because she says she sings this song to “give him comfort and strength to continue fighting.” She delivered an emotional performance with a voice that Simon described as “stunning.” All four of the judges gave her a yes -- and there was not a dry eye in the house.
Comedian Preacher Lawson grew up with his 3 other siblings and a single mom in Orlando, Florida. In his background tape, he discussed growing up in severe poverty and at some points all five of his family members were sleeping in their car. What is so special about his story is that his comedic energy has been there from the start, joking about how his mom made everything better -- even sleeping in the car, which he recalled with a joke, "This is like a movie! I was like 'Ooh! We should have no money all the time.'" His poor man's jokes certainly won over the judges.
When she was just 16-years-old, Kechi was in a tragic plane crash in Nigeria. The crash took the lives of 107 out of 109 passengers -- she was one of the two survivors, and she lost her best friend who was sitting right next to her. When she was found, she was mixed up with debris and completely covered in burns, which resulted in more than 100 surgeries to recover. When asked how she dealt with the situation, she responded explaining that music was her escape and that is why it means so much to her. Singing was the dream that kept her going, and she made it happen with a moving rendition of Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" that brought Simon and the entire audience to their feet.