Deaf singer earns Simon Cowell’s golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent

It may not officially be summer quite yet, but it is for me, as I count the season kicking off with the debut of the latest season of America’s Got Talent. We are only two episodes into the show’s 12th season, and the talent is already the subject of many a water cooler discussion. On Tuesday night’s episode, Simon Cowell bestowed his golden buzzer vote to 29-year-old singer Mandy Harvey, who lost her hearing at the age of 18.

Mandy, who arrived to the auditions with her father and her translator, explained that she had been singing since she was four, but started gradually losing her hearing due to a connective tissue disorder, which she initially thought was “an ear infection that got worse.” As she told the judges, “basically I got sick and my nerves deteriorated.” Mandy stopped singing for a while, she also left school at Colorado State University, where she was studying to be a vocal jazz professor and her father was the one who suggested she give music another go. She is now able to perform thanks to muscle memory, using visual tuners and trusting her pitch. She performs without shoes so she can feel the beat and tempo of the music through the floor.

Accompanied by a bass player and keyboardist, Mandy played ukulele and sang an original song called “Try.” She told the panel she wrote the song because, “after I lost my hearing, I gave up. But I want to do more with my life than just give up.” Mandy got a standing ovation from the audience and Simon told her, “Mandy, I don’t think you’re going to need a translator for this,” before hitting the golden buzzer that sends the singer straight to the live shows later this season. He told her he was “surprised” and “amazed” by her performance. Mandy was overwhelmed, incredulously asking her father “What just happened?” backstage.

My immediate thought when I heard Mandy perform was how her style was so reminiscent of last season’s winner, Grace VanderWaal. Well, Mandy and Grace have already become BFFs on social media. Grace tweeted the clip of Mandy’s performance on Twitter, calling it “magical,” to which Many replied, “AHHHHH Thank you @GraceVanderWaal…If you ever need another Ukulele loving gal to sing with i’m here! #goldenbuzzertwins #agt.” Grace replied with “I would be beyond honored! I can’t even find the words to explain how blown away I am by you and I am 100% sure that you are the winner.”

Are we going to have back-to-back ukulele playing female vocalists on AGT? I doubt it. I mean, Mandy does have a lovely voice and some definite talent in the songwriting talent but, sob story aside, she is in competition with lots of other, honestly more talented singers. Full disclosure, I have already committed my AGT votes this season to Atlanta’s own Puddles Pity Party. He has an amazing voice and I hope he will inject some of his stage act into future performances, because his live shows are so much more than just singing. I applaud Mandy for not giving up and living her dream, and I’m sure even if she doesn’t win the competition, she’s already won the hearts of the viewing audience. #TeamPuddles.





Photos: Getty Images, NBC/America’s Got Talent

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18 Responses to “Deaf singer earns Simon Cowell’s golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent”

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  1. 1979 says:

    I guess she doesn’t have to win to get a decent career out of it. Hope she does well. Going barefoot reminds me of how deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie hugs a speaker when learning a new piece of music.

    • MyHiddles says:

      It doesn’t matter if she wins. When Simon actually gets wowed by someone, he makes their career anyway.

  2. mellie says:

    I was brought to tears watching this on Tuesday. I don’t know if she will win the $1 million or not, but I think this girl is going to be ok. She is amazing.

  3. Birdix says:

    I imagined the golden buzzer like the giant gong on the Gong Show.. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a gong for the president and could gong him off??

  4. Kiki says:

    I hope she does win AGT, it is people like her and Rachel Platten that will do well within years. Their “don’t give up” attitude when things are really hard are who you look out for. Also, I can sing l, really sing. She has a beautiful voice. I hope she does well.

  5. Sam says:

    Sobbing at my desk. This was amazing

  6. Courtney says:

    It’s interpreter, not translator for ASL.

  7. Dorothy#1 says:

    I love this show. Bonus points because my whole family can watch!!

  8. MissAmanda says:

    oh! i love that some people were doing the sign language ‘clap’ for her, including the judge.

  9. Emma33 says:

    I have a degree in classical music, and I was blown away by this! I just can’t imagine how she can disitnguish between the different pitches using muscle memory and, I’m assuming, vibration. I think in the whole song she just had one or two notes that were a bit pitchy. I would love to listen to a more detailed interview with her talking about how she manages it.

    I agree that her voice and song-writing skills are not mind-blowing, I’m sure there are singers with better voices in the competition…but I hope she gets to do a few live performances.

    • MyHiddles says:

      I love Mandy, but I agree that Grace, at only 12, is a much better songwriter.

      • jenn says:

        @Emma33: It seems like she must have perfect pitch? And it’s definitely possible to remember what a pitch “feels” like in the throat. Like, vocally (the voice is a “string instrument”!) it’s a bit like touch-typing, like you find “home row” and then feel the notes out from there, even when you can’t hear—if that makes any sense. (I suspect her dad helped her learn to recognize “home row” by sitting with her and helping out, and he could well be just offstage to maybe signal if she’s just slightly off the “right” note, was my initial thought here.)

        @MyHiddles: And because of all that, I imagine it would be difficult to compose a piece of music as dynamic as Grace can. This young woman’s vocal range is probably limited (to the throat, where vibrations “feel different” from chest and falsetto, or “head voice”), and it’s gonna take quite a bit more time to learn how to “feel” those other octaves. Certainly much of it relies on the speaker-monitor right behind her. I do think with more time she could compose something as complicated as Grace Vanderwaal, but… I mean, this girl has a literal disability. She IS handicapped. So her melodies ARE gonna be simpler, at least for now…!

        Super impressive and amazing, though. Made me cry hard. Wonderful, wonderful. What an amazing musician.

  10. Alexandria says:

    Loved her voice, very earnest to me. Didn’t like the song, but would not deny she has more talent that I could ever have. I hope her story of adversity gets through to Mel B though, I think she needs a lot of strength during this period.

  11. manda says:

    Omg, I am absolutely in tears over this song!

  12. Scal says:

    I appreciate that Howie Mandell immediately did the sign for applause. As in right away.

    I don’t watch the show, but I do know puddles from youtube and post modern jukebox and he’s AMAZING! I had no idea he’s on the show. This was fantastic, but he is totally going to win.

  13. JennyJenny says:

    That was definitely a sweet, tearjerker performance.
    She will now have opportunities open up for her.
    I just wish Simon would wear better shirts!

  14. elimaeby says:

    This DESTROYED me. I recently took a hiatus from a promising stint as a writer at a major U.S. comedy theater after a series of mysterious seizures. I haven’t been feeling myself as a writer or a person since. This made me want to dig deeper, and, well, try (no pun intended, but pun appreciated).

  15. jenn says:

    Aw, f-ck. Thanks for sharing this. I’m a sucker for talent-show crap, but this is super special.