Brandon Leake made history as the first spoken-word poet to participate in America’s Got Talent. On Wednesday night, he made history again, as the first poet to ever win the competition.
The 27-year-old California native was a front-runner throughout Season 15, ever since he earned a Golden Buzzer from Howie Mandel during auditions. Leake’s performances centered around everything from the Black Lives Matter movement, to his newborn daughter, to the death of his sister — each one leaving the judges in awe.
“I’ve never been more moved in my life on this show by any other act,” Mandel said in the quarterfinals, when Leake delivered a poignant piece about police brutality and racism. “We need you on this show. We need you in this world. … You matter.”
It seems America agreed with Mandel’s sentiments as the show crowned Leake as the Season 15 champion three weeks later.
“For an art form that has not been in the mainstream ever to have a chance to win ‘America’s Got Talent‘ is bigger than anything,” Leake said on Wednesday night. “I am going to show the world what a spoken-word poet can do.”
The poet beat out nine finalists to win a $1 million prize and the opportunity to headline an AGT show in Las Vegas. The duo Broken Roots finished in second, singer Christina Rae came third, 11-year-old Roberta Battaglia finished fourth, and aerialist Alan Silva placed fifth. The remaining acts of the night – singers Archie Williams and Kenadi Dodds, dancing duo Bad Salsa, singer Daneliya Tuleshova, and acrobats Bello Sisters — were eliminated earlier in the night.
The finale was star-studded, with dozens of musical guests, collaborations and appearances from past competitors. The show kicked off with a performance from Usher, who sand a medley of his greatest hits. Christina Rae stunned in a duet with OneRepublic‘s Ryan Tedder on “Lose Somebody.”
Dancers Bad Salsa performed a fast-paced routine with fellow India natives V. Unbeatable, the acrobatic dance troupe that won of Season 2 of America’s Got Talent: The Champions.
Williams got a special message from Duchess Meghan Markle: “I just wanted to let you know that we’ve been so moved by your story and cheering you on every week, and it’s not just because we are partial the name,” she said, referring to her son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. “Archie, we are proud of you, and we are rooting for you, and we can’t wait to see what you do. We are in your corner.”
Fourteen-year-old Tuleshova dueted with Ava Max on the singer’s “Kings & Queens,” while Broken Roots teamed up with Blake Shelton on his hit “God’s Country,” which won single of the year at the 2020 ACM Awards just last week. Despite their young age, Dodds, 15, and Battaglia, 11, held their own with Julia Michaels and JP Saxe for their single “If the World Was Ending.”