‘AGT’: Sofia Vergara and spoken-word performer bond over tragedy in first audience-less show – USA TODAY

Cydney Henderson
USA TODAY

Published 10:02 PM EDT Jun 30, 2020

Spoiler alert! This story contains details from the June 30 episode of “America’s Got Talent.”

“America’s Got Talent” headed into uncharted territory Tuesday. 

The sixth day of auditions, which was taped in March, marked the first episode of Season 15 impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, before countrywide lockdown orders sidelined entertainment production.

“I had a nightmare that I would be 90 years old doing this show and nobody would be watching it,” judge Simon Cowell said while looking back to the empty Pasadena Civic Auditorium. “And here we are.”

Aside from crew members and host Terry Crews, that meant there were only four people in the audience Tuesday: Cowell, Sofía Vergara, Howie Mandel and guest judge Eric Stonestreet, who filled in for a sick Heidi Klum.

“This is what an audition is actually like,” Cowell said. “This is going to be much harder for them.”

Although the audience was missing, the talent was not. 

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Brandon Leake, a 27-year-old college counselor from Stockton, California, shocked the judges with an emotionally poetic spoken-word performance, a first on the “AGT” stage. 

“Tonight’s poem is actually an ode to my sister. … She’s here with me now,” Leake said, leading Mandel to ask if she was backstage. “Kind of,” Leake replied.

Leake proceeded to vocalize the painful process of mourning and accepting the death of his younger sister, Danielle Marie Gibson, who died in 1997, the same year Vergara lost her brother. Gibson was only 8 months old.

“My brother passed away the same year that your sister passed away,” an emotional Vergara said. “I can feel your pain. I know what this is. I know what it is to have somebody taken from you without you knowing, but it was very beautiful for me.”

Mandel applauded Leake’s creativity and vulnerability. 

“It’s amazing to me that on Season 15 it’s the first time we’re hearing … spoken word,” the comedian said. “There was something more, so raw. 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.”

Mandel hit the Golden Buzzer as just five pairs of hands clapped, sending Leake straight to the live final shows. All of the judges and Crews have now used their Golden Buzzers.

Cowell called his act an “amazing tribute.” He continued: “There is something very, very special about you. This is a very difficult thing for me to judge, I shouldn’t be judging it. I just want to compliment you on what you just did, because it was extraordinary.”

“America’s Got Talent” returns on NBC July 14 for the last audition show of the season. 

Last week on ‘AGT’: Sofia Vergara falls in her haste to get away from shocking eye-bulging rapper

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