“I know how much it would have meant to her”

Mzansi Youth Choir perform

The Mzansi Youth Choir perform “It’s OK” in honor of “AGT” contestant Nightbirde, who died of cancer in 2022. (Photos: NBC)

Two years after singer-songwriter and cancer patient Nightbirde won America’s Got Talent judge the Golden Buzzer and the heart of Simon Cowell – and the hearts of millions of viewers – with his upbeat original ballad “It’s Alright,” his presence continued to be felt this week AGT Season 18 premiere. At the episode’s emotional end, the Mzansi Youth Choir of Soweto put a triumphant spin on Nightbirde’s anthem – and they made their own Golden Buzzer story.

Nightbirde (real name: Jane Marczewski) would probably have won AGT Season 16, but sadly the folk-pop singer, who at the time of her audition had been given only a 2% chance of survival by doctors, had to drop out of the competition to focus on her cancer treatment. In February 2022, Nightbirde tragically lost her battle with cancer at age 31, but shortly after her death, Lebanese dance troupe Mayyas auditioned for AGT Season 17, citing the brave and resilient singer as their main inspiration. Mayyas also won a Golden Buzzer (from judge Sofia Vergara), and they won the whole show. Marczewski never got to see Mayyas perform, but it turns out she heard a version of the Mzansi Youth Choir’s glorious cover of “It’s OK” before she died. And now the South African Choir may have the chance to repeat Mayyas’ success and continue to honor one of the series’ most beloved contestants.

“When we heard Nightbirde sing this song on this stage, we were very inspired and touched by her story, so we decided to record the song,” explained one of the Mzansi Youth Choir members during the premiere. of Tuesday. “To our surprise, she responded so well. This song that has been such a pillar of strength for us as a choir in difficult times. We just want to continue his legacy.

As soon as the Mzansi Youth Choir began their harmoniously harmonized and choreographed performance, it was clear that the panel was impressed. But when the band got to the familiar, hopeful refrain of the choir, that’s when it clicked for the judges. Cowell exchanged a knowing look across the office with Howie Mandel, who uttered a simple “Wowand placed her head in her hands, while Vergara and sad-eyed Heidi Klum sighed audibly. A standing ovation from all four judges ensued, as host Terry Crews dabbed at his eyes and remarked, “What a wonderful tribute to a beautiful person.”

“My God, my God, WowCowell stammered, at a rare loss of words as he processed what he had just witnessed.

Simon Cowell with Nightbirde in 2021. (Photo: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Simon Cowell with Nightbirde in 2021. (Photo: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

“For anyone who doesn’t know, we have lost a very, very special person from our AGT family,” Klum told the studio audience. “[This song] has a very special meaning in my heart. It was really beautiful. THANKS.”

“I will always remember Nightbirde,” Mandel said. “And to see that it touched people on the other side of the globe – amazing. You deserved more than a yes. You deserve a “thank you”.

“It was the perfect AGT audition,” a visibly choked Vergara said.

It was then that Cowell finally spoke, even though he could barely get the words out. “It brought back so many memories,” he said, trying not to cry as Vergara rubbed his shoulder supportively. “I know how much that would have meant to her.” Cowell again paused before bursting into tears, but stoically continued after wiping his eyes. “Until the end, she was so passionate about sharing her music. It went around the world, and you came back here with the most incredible tribute. It was just breathtaking, honestly.

Watch Nightbirde’s original performance of “It’s OK” below:

At this point, the live audience was chanting, “golden ringtone! golden ringtone! golden ringtoneSo Cowell suggested something the show had never done before… and introduced the concept of a audience-selected Golden Buzzer. (Each AGT the season’s usual six Golden Buzzers — one pushed individually by each judge, one pushed by the crews, and one employed unanimously by the panel — accelerate recipients directly to the show’s live rounds.)

“This is for you. This for [the audience]. This is for Jane,” Cowell proclaimed. And with that, Crews and the panel hit the Golden Buzzer on behalf of the “fifth judge,” the America’s Got Talent audience. Cowell and his castmates then jumped onto the stage to congratulate the Mzansi Youth Choir amid a shower of festive confetti, with Mandell describing their “It’s OK” performance as “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life. and Cowell telling them they had “no idea” how much that moment had meant to him.

Simon Cowell reacts to Mzansi Youth Choir's cover of Nightbirde.  (Pictures: NBC)

Simon Cowell reacts to Mzansi Youth Choir’s cover of Nightbirde. (Pictures: NBC)

Tuesday two o’clock AGT The Season 18 premiere featured more dramatic moments – especially when Ukrainian acrobatic trio Three G went down three times during their harrowing routine, but their perseverance was still rewarded with four yeses – as well as lighter ones, like the energetic performance of cult hair-metal band Steel Panther (who Really had to tone down their famous steamy Sunset Strip shtick for this family show). But with Season 18 just getting started, it’s hard to imagine there will be a moment as moving or memorable as Mzansi Youth Choir’s “It’s OK.”

America’s Got Talent Season 18 returns with more auditions next Tuesday, June 6th.

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