Kodi Lee got the Golden Buzzer from new judge Gabrielle Union on America’s Got Talent on Tuesday sending him straight to the season 14 Hollywood live show.
The bold move during the season premiere earned Kodi a choice spot in the running for the show’s $1 million prize and the opportunity to headline a show in Las Vegas.
It was also a moment that had everyone in tears.
Golden buzzer: Gabrielle Union pressed her Golden Buzzer while making her debut Tuesday as a judge on season 14 of America’s Got Talent
Kodi, 22, was the last contestant to perform during the two-hour premiere on NBC.
He walked onstage shakily, holding tightly to a cane while accompanied by his mother, Tina Lee.
‘I’m happy-nervous,’ the Lake Elsinore, California native said to producers before his performance—a heartfelt rendition of Donny Hathaway’s 1971 hit A Song For You, which he played on piano and sang.
Kodi’s trembling body grew calm and composed as he poured himself completely into the piece.
Final contestant: Kodi Lee was the last contestant to audition during the two-hour premiere
He’s ready: The blind and autistic singer took to the stage with his mother Tina Lee
Tina explained to judges Gabrielle, 46, Simon Cowell, 59, Howie Mandel, 63, and Julianne Hough, 30, that her son was both blind and autistic.
‘We found that he loved music really early on,’ she said. ‘He listened and his eyes just went huge. He started singing, and I was in tears… that’s when I realized, ”He’s an entertainer”.’
As Kodi soulfully delivered the last notes of his emotional performance, the crowd and all four judges rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation.
Music lover: Tina told the judges that they learned her son loved music ‘really early on’
Talented singer: Kodi’s trembling body grew calm and composed as he poured himself completely into the piece
Piano man: The singer also played piano while performing Donny Hathaway’s 1971 hit A Song For You
Standing ovation: Howie Mandel, Gabrielle, Julianne Hough and Simon Cowell gave Kodi a standing ovation
‘That’s all for you baby,’ his mom told him, leaning in, as the rest of his family laughed and cried with excitement from the side of the stage. ‘It’s all for you.’
The judges were overcome.
‘I know everybody needs a voice and an expression,’ said actress Julianne, a new judge and former two-time champion on Dancing With The Stars. ‘Your passion and your voice blew all of us away. I just want to say I heard you, and I felt you, and that was beautiful.’
Getting emotional: New judge Julianne praised Kodi as her voice cracked with emotion
‘What just happened there was extraordinary,’ marveled Simon. ‘I’m gonna remember this moment for the rest of my life.’
But no one was more moved than Gabrielle.
‘I’m a new judge this season, and I’m also a new mom this year,’ said the proud parent of Kaavia James Union Wade, born last November.
New mom: Gabrielle noted that she was a new judge and a new mom before pressing her Golden Buzzer
‘It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had, and the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. You just want to give your kids the moon, the stars and the rainbows… and tonight, I’m gonna give you something special,’ she said.
With that, she hit her Golden Buzzer, and sent Kodi all the way through to the Hollywood live show, as golden confetti fell all around him and his mother onstage.
The singer jumped up and down as the judges flew to his side to hug him and his mom.
Confetti falling: Kodi rejoiced as confetti fell after Gabrielle advanced him straight to the live show in Los Angeles
On stage: The judges went up onto the stage to congratulate Kodi
Tender moment: Gabrielle gave her Golden Buzzer pick a hug
It was an emotional start to the new season, though far from the only impressive audition the judges saw over the course of several days.
Onscreen, nine other hopefuls got four ‘yes’ votes.
Houston magician Eric Chien, 26, had the audience of 2,000-plus gasping as he delivered a set of card tricks so incredible it practically begged viewers to rewind.
Magic man: Houston magician Eric Chien, 26, had the audience of 2,000-plus gasping as he delivered a set of card tricks so incredible it practically begged viewers to rewind
With a wave of his hand, he turned red cards blue; another wave, and they were half-red, or cut in half, or disappeared entirely. As he bent over to grab a card that flew away, his black vest transformed itself, becoming half-blue and half-red. Then the cards turned into coins.
‘I think you’re one of the best we’ve ever had,’ said Simon.
Sophie Pecora, a ‘shy and quiet’ 15-year-old singer/songwriter from Danville, California, has a small following on YouTube, but said she aspired to perform her own original songs on tour.
Card tricks: The magician stunned viewers by making cards and his vest change colors
Her song, 7th Grade, vividly and honestly described her experiences with bullies at school.
‘When I write my songs, I’m just in my room, by myself,’ Sophie noted. ‘So to perform this in front of millions of people is just so nerve-wracking.’
Her small, pure voice wrecked the room.
Teen talent: Sophie Pecora performed her own original song 7th Grade
‘Man,’ said Gabrielle. ‘We ask for artists to come up here, and bare their souls, and wow us, and honey—you did. You are so young, but you spoke to me, and I’m 46.’
‘You have a special gift,’ she continued. ‘You held us all captive.’
‘I like you a lot,’ added Simon, praising Sophie’s ‘really cool’ delivery.
Really cool: Simon said that Sophie had a ‘really cool’ delivery
Voice artist Greg Morton, 60, had everyone riveted as he spoke in character as R2D2, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Jabba the Hutt and other icons from the Star Wars trilogy.
He earned a standing ovation from the crowd, which had him weeping and jumping into the arms of new show host Terry Crews, 50, who called Star Wars ‘my favorite movie of all time.’
V Unbeatable, a 28-person dance group from Mumbai, India, had everyone cheering again as they jumped, tumbled and flew through the air in perfect sync, even running across stilts.
Voice artist: Greg Morton, 60, had everyone riveted as he spoke in character as R2D2, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Jabba the Hutt and other icons from the Star Wars trilogy
‘Life in Mumbai is very hard,’ said the leader of the group, admitting that many of the members, who ranged in age from 12 to 27, lived in the slums.
‘When we dance, we forget all the tensions in our mind, and we feel free.’
‘You can tell that this is a family, where you guys come together and support each other,’ said Julianne. ‘I think we just watched history in the making.’
Dance group: V Unbeatable, a 28-person dance group from Mumbai, India, had everyone cheering
Silver siren: Julianne wore a silver dress with plunging neckline for the auditions
‘Julianne said you just made history,’ Howie countered. ‘I’ll tell you something. I think you just made your future.’
‘This is certainly one of the best dance acts that we have ever, ever had on any of our shows,’ Simon agreed.
The formerly taciturn judge was actually moved to kiss a contestant, giving comedienne Jackie Fabulous a peck on each cheek after a hilarious set that saw her earn a standing ovation.
Stand-up comic: Jackie Fabulous made the audience and judges laugh with her routine
Tenth year: Howie was celebrating his 10th year on the NBC talent competition show
‘Thank god for you,’ Simon said. ‘Just when you think the world has lost its sense of humor, on you come. You are hilarious! I wanna hang out with you.’
‘I’m not gonna lie—I thought it was gonna be on the mouth,’ the 47-year-old Bronx, New York native told him. ‘It wasn’t on the mouth, but whatever—it’s cool, it’s cool.’
Sydney, Australia drag queen ‘Gingzilla,’ who refused to reveal her age, called herself ‘the love child of Jessica Rabbit and Chuck Norris.’
Drag queen: Sydney, Australia drag queen ‘Gingzilla,’ who refused to reveal her age, called herself ‘the love child of Jessica Rabbit and Chuck Norris’
Bare-chested in a sleek suit jacket and pants, she sported a full face of makeup and a tightly styled head of curly hair.
She performed Paul Anka’s She’s A Lady to enthusiastic applause, twice pretending to leave the stage only to slide back onto it singing, ‘Oh no, she’s not, she’s not going home!’
‘It is exactly why we created this show—to find people like you,’ Simon said.
Nailed it: Gingzilla performed Paul Anka’s She’s A Lady to enthusiastic applause and twice pretended to leave the stage only to slide back on to the delight of the audience
Other performers who went through were Italy’s Patrizio Ratto, who unexpectedly did a hyper-kinetic robot dance to Beethoven’s Für Elise, and ‘The Human Fuse,’ Brian Miser, 55, who was shot out of a crossbow on fire to the horror and amazement of the crowd.
Not all of the contestants were successful.
Among those axed were a weird puppeteer, a juggling clown, a woman making dog sounds, an operatic Jesus and a gargling vocal artist.
Nice try: Liz Chuday was buzzed off after her barking routine failed to impress the judges
Good effort: Andy Pigkens was buzzed off after Julianne tried to hold off on ejecting him
So long: Monkey did not last long before getting buzzed off the show
New judge Julianne seemed to have a blast and praised the raucous welcome she got from the crowd.
‘This feels like home,’ she said.
Known for her positive attitude and cheerfulness, Julianne began by supporting even the worst contestants, but a run of truly terrible auditions forced her to abandon that stance.
Positive attitude: Julianne brought her positive attitude to the NBC show that Simon created
‘I’m ready to bust some balls,’ she said, trading her white dress for a black one at the next auditions. She was soon pressing the ‘X’ button and eliminating contestants with fiendish joy.
Gabrielle was simply thrilled to be there.
‘I’m just a girl from Omaha, Nebraska, and here I am trying to find superstars on the world’s biggest stage,’ she offered. ‘It’s an amazing feeling.’
America’s Got Talent will return Tuesday on NBC.
Foot press: The two-time Dancing With The Stars champion used her foot to push Simon’s button
Amazing feeling: Gabrielle on being a new judge said she was ‘just a girl from Omaha, Nebraska’ looking for new superstars and called it an ‘amazing feeling’