Incredibly, in all of its past 14 seasons, America’s Got Talent had never featured a spoken-word contestant. But when Brandon Leake competed on the show this season, he certainly made up for that lack. From his first audition, when he recited a tear-jerking poem about his late baby sister, the 27-year-old Stockton poet, educator, and new father captured viewers’ attention — and earned judge Howie Mandel’s Golden Buzzer. At that time, host Terry Crews had boldly told Brandon, “You’re about to put spoken word on the map like it’s never been before.”
And on Wednesday’s live grand finale, after a season full of memorable Brandon poems about the Black Lives Matter movement and the complexities of fatherhood and family, Terry’s prediction came true: The very first AGT spoken-word contestant became the series’ very first spoken-word champion, as an ecstatic Brandon dropped to his knees and Howie jumped to his feet.
Season 15’s runner-up, Broken Roots, also had a historic finish. The country duo’s Austin Edwards and Joey Kar, who only met six months ago, had never even performed together before their AGT audition this year — and they almost never made it to the live shows at all. They were actually eliminated during the Judge Cuts, but brought back for the quarterfinals as a replacement for teen singer Thomas Day, who’d mysteriously dropped out at the last minute.
It’s also worth noting that this season’s top two finalists — a pair of country-crooning Chicago cops and a sensitive Northern Californian poet — demonstrated just how diverse this show, its viewership, and this nation in general is (even if some fans had been annoyed by the number of singers who’d made it to finals). The Season 15 top five was rounded out by a Brazilian aerialist (Alan Silva, in fifth place), an 11-year-old Canadian prodigy (Roberta Battaglia, fourth), and a Nashville diva and formerly homeless single mom (Cristina Rae, third).
“This is bigger than just me; this is a huge win for the spoken-word community,” Brandon gushed when he found out he had made it into the top two (edging out frontrunning vocalists like Cristina, Roberta, and Daneliya Tuleshova), just minutes before Terry announced the surprising result. “For an art form that has not been in the mainstream ever to have a chance to win America’s Got Talent is bigger than anything.”
So, congratulations to Brandon for his unprecedented AGT victory — and for making Las Vegas history too, when he soon gets his own headlining residency at the Luxor.
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