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Autistic Performer Kodi Lee Wins 'America's Got Talent'

On Wednesday, reality talent competition “America’s Got Talent” concluded its 14th season, naming Kodi Lee, a blind and autistic singer and pianist, the winner. Lee is the first disabled person to win the show.

Lee originally won a golden buzzer from judge Gabrielle Union after his performance of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” His performance earned a standing ovation from the audience and a guaranteed spot in the semi-finals.

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Posted by America's Got Talent on Wednesday, September 18, 2019

In the quarterfinals, Lee won praise for his performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“I want to thank Paul Simon, who never really gives permission for anyone to sing this song because it’s very precious to him,” judge Simon Cowell said. “He gave [Lee] clearance within 30 minutes.”

Though Lee’s talent was celebrated by the judges all season, many critiqued the way the show portrayed his story, calling it “inspiration porn.”

While the language has since been changed, initially “AGT” labeled its YouTube video of Lee’s performance with a title that implied Lee had “defeated” autism and blindness with music. Autism is not something that needs to be “cured” or “overcome.” Lee is talented because of his musical ability, something he’s worked to nurture just like any other musician.

Lee wasn’t the only disabled performer honored in the finals. Comedian Ryan Niemiller, the self-proclaimed “Cripple Threat of Comedy” took third place.

“Growing up with a disability, I learned really early on that the best way for me to survive and not get made fun of was to be able to make the jokes before anyone else could even think of them,” Niemiller previously told The Mighty. “I was so good at them that I never really got bullied that much.”

Congrats, Kodi and Ryan! We can’t wait to see what you do next.