Autistic ‘America’s Got Talent’ Contestant Kodi Lee Wows Judges, Earns Spot in Semi-Finals
On Tuesday, reality talent competition “America’s Got Talent” aired the first episode of its 14th season. Contest Kodi Lee, who is blind and autistic, stole the show with an amazing musical performance that earned him a spot in the live semi-finals.
Lee walked onto the “AGT” stage accompanied by his mother, Tina Lee. Judge Gabrielle Union asked Kodi Lee his name, age and how he planned to perform. After the 22-year-old shared he would sing and play the piano, the judges asked his mother to tell them more about Kodi Lee.
“We found out that he loved music really early on,” Tina Lee said. “He started singing. That’s when I realized, oh my gosh, he’s an entertainer. Through music and performing, he was able to withstand living in this world because when you’re autistic, it’s really hard to do what everyone else does. It actually has saved his life, playing music.”
Kodi Lee then settled in at the piano and gave a jaw-dropping performance of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” His performance earned a standing ovation from the audience and high praise from the judges.
“I really feel your heart, your passion. Your voice blew us all away,” Julianne Hough said. “I heard you, I felt you and it was beautiful.”
“What just happened there was extraordinary,” Simon Cowell added. “Your voice is absolutely fantastic, you have a really beautiful tone. Thank you so much for trusting us on this show.”
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. However, autism or disability is not something that needs to be “cured” or “overcome.”
Autism is part of the broad spectrum of neurodiverse ways of being human. It doesn’t require a “fix.” As Mighty contributor David Gray-Hammond wrote in his article, “Please Stop Trying to Cure My Autism,” “We don’t need autism awareness. Most people are aware of autism these days. What we need is autism acceptance.”
After his performance, Union wanted to further recognize Lee’s musical talent. “Tonight, I’m going to give you something special,” she said before hitting her golden buzzer. This guarantees Lee will automatically have a place in the competition’s live semi-finals in Los Angeles later this season.
In an interview following the show, Union reflected on giving her golden buzzer to Lee, highlighting that he pulled off an excellent rendition of a difficult Hathaway song that earned a spot in the semi-finals.
“[Lee] opened his mouth and he slayed. People have attempted this on numerous shows on numerous stages. I’ve never seen anyone nail it in the way that Kodi did,” Union said. She added:
I’ve been saving my golden buzzer for just this moment. I wanted an act, I wanted a performer that was going to change the world. Not just get a lot of likes, but truly change the world. I believe that my golden buzzer act, Kodi, is that act, that performer, that once-in-a-lifetime performer that not just leaves a stamp on the world but truly changes it.
Catch new episodes of “AGT” the rest of the season on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Header image via Kodi Lee’s Facebook page