America's New Wave of Talent
Season 14 of NBC’s America’s Got Talent kicked off with the inauguration of its latest host, actor and former NFL player Terry Crews; two new judges (dance sensation Julianne Hough and actress Gabrielle Union); and, of course, a roster of unique, often inexplicable talent. From voice impressions and tambourine playing to shadow dancing and an opera/knife throwing hybrid, this season featured a greater range of entertainment than ever before. As the finale approaches, standout contestants Benicio Bryant and Charlotte Summers, Jay Leno’s Golden Buzzer Emanne Beasha, Brad Paisley’s Golden Buzzer Sophie Pecora, and Howie Mandel’s Golden Buzzer Joseph Allen--chat about their experience as singers on the show.
When did you first become interested in singing?
Joseph Allen: I became interested in singing because of how interested I was in being the class clown. It gave me another avenue to entertain the students in my classes when I was little.
Emanne Beasha: I’ve always been interested in singing. I can’t remember not singing.
Sophie Pecora: When I was seven years old.
Benicio Bryant: I’ve always been interested in singing. My parents say that even at two years old, I would run around the house with toothbrushes making little beats on everything and humming to songs.
Charlotte Summers: When I was small, around five or six years old, my mom and dad used to put on music, and my sister and I would dance and sing along.
Who are some singers that inspire you and why?
Allen: Right now, Drake is the artist that inspires me the most because of how he has branded himself and how he has found a way to dominate the charts.
Beasha: I love Maria Callas because she sang with passion, and when she sang, she owned the stage. She was elegant and the original “diva.” I also love Pavarotti. He was so powerful with his voice.
Pecora: Currently, Alec Benjamin. He's a musician but also a storyteller, which is super cool. He’s very good with lyrics. I’m also inspired by Will Jay. His music style is very unique, and I like how he writes songs about important and relatable subjects.
Bryant: Such a hard question! There are so many fantastic artists out there. I love Beyoncé—who doesn’t? She’s an amazing singer; her voice is incredible! I also listen to Bob Marley a lot. I love his lyrics and message of positivity. My favorite quote from one of his songs is “Love the life you live, and live the life you love.” It’s important to be yourself and do whatever makes you happy, not what others want you to do! Another singer who inspires me is Lady Gaga. I think she amazingly talented, and I love her voice and connection to her fans. Lastly, Brandi Carlile has been really awesome to me, and her music has an important message. She’s authentic and exactly the same person on and off the stage!
Summers: Whitney Houston is very inspiring--she had an amazing voice. Freddie Mercury as well--he had a spectacular voice and great personality, and he connected with the audience. I also love Joss Stone as an artist. My dad loves Frank Sinatra, so I’ve listened to a lot of that kind of music, too.
Why did you decide to audition for America’s Got Talent?
Allen: Come on now! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the world’s biggest talent show?
Beasha: I’m not sure why I decided to audition for AGT, but I’m really glad I did. I’m really happy that I got to sing in front of Simon. My grandma has been watching him on TV for a really long time.
Pecora: I've watched the show for so long and have always loved it. It seemed like such an awesome opportunity to share my music with the world! Also, going on a show like that on a huge stage is a lot different than I'm used to, so I thought it would be a good experience for me. And it was!
Bryant: Right before this season’s audition, I talked to my parents and told them I wanted to audition for AGT. My dad said “great,” but my mom was hesitant. I guess she worries about the pressure at a young age. Ultimately, I convinced her!
Summers: It has been my dream since I was little, so when I got the chance to take part, I was so excited. AGT is the biggest show on Earth.
How did you decide which song to sing for your audition?
Allen: I just tried to make a song that I thought couldn’t be denied.
Beasha: I picked an opera song that wasn’t too opera-y, something people would recognize. I really love singing Nessun Dorma. The end of it when you sing “vincerò” is the best.
Pecora: I chose my [original] song, "7th Grade," for the audition because I thought it was very relevant to a lot of people who are my age. It seems like school is an ongoing stress for kids, and I wanted people to listen to the lyrics and feel like someone understood how they're feeling.
Bryant: I came prepared with a few options, and the music team and I thought “The Joke” was killer. It has a fantastic message, and I have a personal connection to Brandi Carlile, so it fit! She’s from my hometown, and we met and sang “The Joke” at a fundraiser for an arts program. She’s fantastic!
Summers: I realized that [“I Put a Spell on You”] is a song that has a lot of power in it and that I could sing it in my style. It has been sung by lots of artists over the years, and I felt that it would be a really good song to showcase what I can do.
What was the most valuable piece of feedback a judge gave you?
Allen: Simon Cowell said “I love you” three times to me, and that showed me that the love was real!
Beasha: I don’t even really remember what they said! It was a long time ago, in March, and I never watch my performances.
Pecora: After my Quarterfinals performance, Simon said that my lyrics, my guitar, and I silenced the whole room in the perfect way. That was really cool to hear because sometimes, I feel like people would respond to my songs better if it had more going on, like a backing track, as that's how a lot of artists do it. I know that I personally love acoustic versions of songs, and there's really something special about being able to just listen to the lyrics. I'm so happy Simon liked me playing guitar because that means he was really listening and appreciating the lyrics.
Bryant: Simon said, “Just don’t listen to anyone else but yourself.” It’s so true— who knows you better than yourself? No one! It’s so easy to second-guess yourself, especially in this business. My song, “Here Goes Nothing” [that I sang for the Judge Cuts] kinda echos the same thought, that really we are really our own worst enemy.
Summers: Simon said I should sing with a band, as backing tracks hold me back and singing with a band would set me free.
What has the response from fans been like?
Allen: It’s been so positive that I’m actually concerned I don’t have enough haters. I find it odd how much people are liking me right now!
Beasha: Since the audition aired, I’ve met a lot of people in my town of North Port who’ve seen my performance, and they told me they loved it. That makes me happy.
Pecora: Amazing! People are so nice, and they always compliment me on my lyrics which, again, means a lot because the lyrics are, by far, the most important part of any song I write. People sometimes send me letters, which is so special, and I can't even believe people take the time to write something to me and send it. I write back to as many people as I can, too. It’s really incredible to have that real connection.
Bryant: The response has been really positive. Of course, there are the occasional negative comments, but I try not to focus on those. I think it takes so much more energy to be negative. If it’s not constructive criticism and the comments are just meant to hurt your feelings, move on. I appreciate each and everyone that takes the time to say something positive!
Summers: Very good. I’m so delighted by the positive response! I’ve even been stopped in [my hometown] Marbella by people who’ve recognized me.
What type of music do you aim to produce in the future?
Allen: Anything that sounds good.
Beasha: The future is untold. I don’t have a plan for what I want to produce.
Pecora: Some kind of simple instruments behind the singing, because the focus should be the lyrics. I’ve heard songs that have certain sounds that go with the story and the lyrics so well, and that's really cool. It's hard to explain what genre, but something like Alec Benjamin or Pink Sweats' style.
Bryant: I love and appreciate all music. I’m drawn to music with a message, things that people relate to. Positive messages! I have tons of ideas!
Summers: I don’t want to have a particular style, but I’d love to make music that means something to people.
What is your endgame? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish?
Allen: I want to be able to take a look at my future wife and kids and take a deep breath knowing that I did everything necessary to take care of them.
Beasha: My endgame is to be able to sing for the rest of my life while I’m studying to be a veterinarian.
Pecora: I want to release multiple albums and have songs in them that I’m super proud of and that people love too. I want to perform all the songs for people around the world and even go on tour with other musicians—that would be really fun. Collaborating with other artists is definitely a goal as well. I've never written a song with anyone before, but I want to try it out! I’d like to collaborate with Billie Eilish, Alec Benjamin, Johnny Orlando, Ben Platt, Pink Sweats, Will Jay, and Brad Paisley!
Summers: In the long run, I want to be someone that can inspire others to follow their dreams.
This or That:
Pop or jazz music?
Summers: All music.
Simon Cowell or Howie Mandel?
Allen: Howie Mandel--he changed my life.
Beasha: Simon Cowell.
Pecora: Simon Cowell.
Summers: Both--as guinea pigs.
Original music or covers?
Allen: Original music.
Pecora: Original music.
Bryant: Always originals!
Shawn Mendes or Khalid?
Beasha: Shawn Mendes.
Summers: Shawn Mendes.
Katy Perry or Ariana Grande?
Allen: Ariana Grande.
Beasha: Ariana Grande.
Bryant: Katy Perry.
Summers: Ariana Grande when she started!
Follow the Contestants on Social Media:
Joseph Allen: @itsjosephallen
Emanne Beasha: @emannebeasha
Sophie Pecora: @sophiepecora
Benicio Bryant: @beniciobryant
Charlotte Summers: @charlottesummersofficial