If you are a Facebook or social media user, you have most likely seen those videos of judges reacting to unexpected performances on televised talent shows. In most instances, the videos feature a person who you would never expect to have a powerful, incredible voice, ending up surprising the audience with their talent and often bringing the judges to tears.
Who could forget Susan Boyle, a Scottish woman who wowed the world with her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from the musical Les Misérables on Britain’s Got Talent? No one could get over discovering her beautiful voice during her performance, which started a media a frenzy and launched her professional singing career.
Britain’s Got Talent launched the career of another famous singer, Paul Potts and popular dance groups such as Diversity. But before Britain’s Got Talent came on the air in 2007, there was America’s Got Talent, which first appeared on our television screens in 2006.
The reality show is a talent competition in which people of all ages compete against one another with their different talents. It is not just a singing competition and there are often dancers, magicians and comedians featured. The winner of the competition takes home a million dollars and gets their own show on the Las Vegas Strip. For many unknown talents, the show is a great way to get exposure and have a chance at fame.
The show was created by none other than Simon Cowell of American Idol fame, who currently also serves as a judge on the show. Much like American Idol, the show starts with an audition period where many hopeful contestants are embarrassed on television while others surprise the judges and viewers as they make their way into a select group of talented individuals.
Over the 12 seasons the show has been on the air, there have been many memorable contestants and winners. We cheered them on and voted for them to stay in the competition and were devastated when our favorites got kicked out.
The first person to ever win the show was a little girl named Bianca Ryan who wowed audiences with her powerful pipes. But that was in 2006. What happened to Bianca and the other winners of America’s Got Talent. Are they still famous today or have they returned to their routines and old jobs they had before they got their 15 minutes in the spotlight?
Bianca Ryan- Then
In the first season of America’s Got Talent, we met a sweet little girl named Bianca Ryan. She was just 11 years old when she took the stage and belted out her version of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and the audience gave her a standing ovation. Ryan made her way into the semifinals but the judges felt that it was not her best performance. It seems that it did not make a difference for Americans what the judges said and she still won the million dollar prize.
Bianca Ryan- Now
Since she gained fame on America’s Got Talent, Ryan has appeared on shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Ellen DeGeneres. She has had a number of amazing opportunities over the years and has released a number of albums. In addition, she appeared in an independent film called We Are Kings in 2012 but in 2014 she admitted she needed an acting coach. As of December 2017, Ryan was appeared in a Broadway show called Home For the Holidays but the show received less than positive reviews.
Mat Franco – Then
Unlike many other performers who have come on the show, Mat Franco is a magician. He made magic history by becoming the first magician in the history of the show to win the competition and the million dollar prize. In his first audition, Franco manipulated his deck of cards and the trick earned him a standing ovation. He went onto dominate the competition and ended up winning season nine. So what is the magician up to today?
Mat Franco – Now
Upon winning the competition, Mat Franco got his own show on the Las Vegas Strip and it was named as the best magic show in the city by the Las Vegas Journal Review. He went onto perform in the first live broadcast of America’s Got Talent and he got a two hour special on NBC. Nowadays, Franco is posting videos of his magic tricks on YouTube and he has more than 200,000 subscribers. In the summer of 2017, he got a theater in Las Vegas named after him, and July 10th was declared “Mat Franco Day.”
Lindsey Stirling – Then
In 2010, violinist Lindsey Stirling walked onto the stage to audition for America’s Got Talent. Unlike most classical violinists, Stirling had a unique take on the instrument and she wowed the audience by playing songs with a pop and hip-hop influence and incorporated dancing into her performances. The judges said that she was “electrifying” and she quickly advanced in the competition. Unfortunately, Lindsey did not win but she did make it to the quarter-finals.
Lindsey Stirling – Now
Since her time on the reality show, Stirling made a career for herself on YouTube and she has around 10 million subscribers on her channel. In addition to being popular online, Stirling still performs live and in 2013 she signed a deal with Lady Gaga’s manager. She performed around the world in countries such as Switzerland and South Korea on her world tour. Since then, Lindsey has competed on Dancing with the Stars, written an autobiography and released several albums.
Jackie Evancho – Then
Although Jackie Evancho eventually became one of the most notable contestants to ever appear on America’s Got Talent, she had to overcome challenges to get on the show. Jackie auditioned for two years before finally getting onto the 5th season. She was just a little girl when she stepped on stage and blew the judges away with her operatic voice. Jackie came in second place in the competition and she went on the America’s Got Talent: Live Tour.
Jackie Evancho – Now
Since her appearance on the show, Jackie continues to perform and has released several albums. Her 2011 album was ranked number one by Billboard’s Classical Albums category and number two the following year. Now 17, she has performed at Carnegie Hall, modeled for Guess Kids and sung the national anthem at the 2016 Presidential Inauguration. Though her decision to perform at the inauguration drew criticism, Evancho stated it was apolitical, and that she would be donating the profits to LGBT charities, in support of her sister, who is transgender.
Emily West – Then
Emily West is the stage name of Emily Marie Nemmers who is a country singer that appeared on the 9th season of America’s Got Talent. Although she first auditioned when she was 32 years old, she had been living in Nashville since she was 18 and had some success as a country artist. Emily was a popular contestant on the show and she even made it to the finale but she was runner-up to Mat Franco.
Emily West – Now
Since then, Emily has gone on to have some mainstream success in the world of country music and she even recorded a duet with country singer Keith Urban in 2010. Their single made it to number 38 on the US country charts and a music video was released along with the song. West has toured the country with her own show as well as appearing in the America’s Got Talent Live: All Stars Tour.
The Texas Tenors – Then
The Texas Tenors are a country and pop singing trio who formed in 2009. That same year, they auditioned for America’s Got Talent and gained national recognition. The group advanced forward in the competition week after week, however, they did not win the and they were in 4th place when they got eliminated. Although they did not take home a million dollars, The Texas Tenors did go on to be a successful performance group.
The Texas Tenors – Now
After they were eliminated from the show, the group released their first self-titled album. To date, the album has sold around 80,000 copies and they then released Country Roots: Classical Sound in 2011. They have released a number of albums and singles since and they even won three Emmy Awards. As of 2017, the group is still performing and have appeared in over 1,500 concerts in more than 20 countries.
Terry Fator – Then
Terry Fator is a ventriloquist, comedian and impressionist who won the second season of America’s Got Talent. Prior to winning the show, Fator was not sure that he would ever be successful in his career and he was thinking about giving up on his dreams. Thankfully, the judges and the audience loved his act even though their initial reaction was that a ventriloquist would not win the show. After his win, Fator’s schedule was so busy that he was actually turning down appearances.
Terry Fator – Now
Following his time on the show, Fator got his own show at the Las Vegas Hilton and it was so popular that audience members often had to stand. He went onto sign a contract with the hotel for $1.5million to perform shows from January to May of 2008. In May of that year, it was announced that Fator would sing a $100 million contract for shows at The Mirage in Las Vegas. He went onto to write a book, voice a character on the Disney Channel and make a guest appearance on America’s Got Talent.
Sal Valentinetti – Then
Sal Valentinetti was a pizza delivery boy before he auditioned for America’s Got Talent. He was only 20 years-old when he mesmerized the judges with his Frank Sinatra like sound. Sal had only discovered his talent for singing when he was a teenager and he was inspired by his grandmother’s love for music. Sal progressed through the entire competition and made it to the final round. In the finale, he performed Oh What a Night from with The Jersey Boys but unfortunately, he finished fifth in the overall competition.
Sal Valentinetti – Now
While Sal was still on the show, he landed a gig for three shows in Long Island and the first show sold out in just 12 hours. Valentinetti is still selling out shows at The Paramount in Huntington and he says that singing is all he does these days. Valentinetti has a number of upcoming tour dates in the United States and it is obvious that he is taking his music career seriously.
Olate Dogs – Then
Father and son Richard and Nicholas Olate are the duo of dog trainers behind this amazing act. They appeared on the 7th season of America’s Got Talent and won the entire competition along with the prize money. Nicholas, who was 19 at the time, convinced his father to audition for the show and it looks like it paid off. They got a standing ovation on their first audition and their unique act featured dogs standing on their hind legs, doing backflips and doing a doggy conga line.
Olate Dogs – Now
Like every other winner of America’s Got Talent, the Olates got their own show at The Palazzo Theater in Las Vegas, which was a 90 minute show that featured new dogs and new routines. The troupe made appearances on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on the America’s Got Talent Live – All Star Tour. This past year they launched their Holiday Rescue Tour and they toured all over Northern California and in other states such as Michigan and New York.
Paul Zerdin – Then
Although Paul Zerdin is British, he audition for the 10th season of America’s Got Talent with his ventriloquist act. His act consisted of Paul throwing his voice and him interacting with his puppet, Sam. In his audition, all of the judges voted yes and he became a favorite in the competition. Zerdin’s performances were varied and always comical. In the semi-finals he used Howie Mandel as a dummy and received a standing ovation. Zerdin ultimately won the competition.
Paul Zerdin – Now
Nowadays, Zerdin is still performing and continues to tour around the world. In 2017, he went on a tour all over the U.K. as he has a worldwide fanbase. Zerdin continues to gain more fans and he even sells him Sam puppet on his website. Zerdin found himself in a controversy when other ventriloquists like Ronn Lucas claimed that they stole their acts. Another ventriloquist, David Strassman, claims that Zerdin stole one of his bits and performed it on the show.
The Willis Clan – Then
The Willis Clan is a musical group made of up the Willis family including the parents, Toby and Brenda and their twelve children. Much like the Duggar family of TLC fame, every child’s name in the Willis family beings with ‘J’. The performing family had already won national competitions for dance and music when they appeared in the 9th season of the show. They made it to the quarterfinals before they were eliminated.
The Willis Clan – Now
Following their appearance on America’s Got Talent, the Willis’ got their own reality show on TLC called The Willis Family. The show follows the family and their life in Tennessee as they try to balance their lives as performers and a family. The show featured the Willis parents and their eight daughters and four sons. The show was cancelled in 2016 after it was alleged that Toby Willis had abused children. Toby was charged for his alleged actions and will likely be spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Darci Lynne Farmer- Then
Darci Lynne Farmer first appeared on our TV screens on season 12 of America’s Got Talent. She is another ventriloquist, however, unlike Zerdin and Fator Farmer is a 13 year-old girl. She first auditioned with a rabbit puppet named Petunia and she was given the highly sought after golden buzzer, which sent her straight through to the next round. She continued to be popular on the show and she ended up winning and got her own show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
Darci Lynne Farmer- Now
Darci Lynne Farmers shows took place in November of 2017 in Las Vegas and two additional shows were added after her first shows sold out. Farmer has had a whirlwind year and she has appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and in A Very Pentatonix Christmas. Farmer is continuing to do well in show business and she recently performed in a charity show at Madison Square Garden. She has announced a national tour that is set to take place in 2018
Taylor Williamson – Then
Taylor Williamson had been doing stand-up comedy since he was in high school but he got his big break when he auditioned for America’s Got Talent at the age of 26. All the judges said yes to his act and he was sent into the Vegas round. Williamson made it all the way to the finale but he did not win and came in second. It is clear that Williamson was a beloved contestant on the show as judge, Heidi Klum said that he was her favorite act in the tenth anniversary episode.
Taylor Williamson – Now
Since his time on the show, Williamson has kept a relatively low profile in the media, however, he has continued to tour and perform his stand-up act. In 2017, Williamson visited a number of states on his tour as well as Canada. The comedian has also released a number of comedy specials including Listen to Grandpa, Andy Ling and Panman. Williamson is known for his dry and awkward style of comedy and he often makes jokes at his own expense.
Carly Jo Jackson – Then
Carly Jo Jackson was 20 years-old when she took the stage to sing her heart out on America’s Got Talent. Just four years earlier she had been given a guitar for her birthday and she was writing songs and performing them i local cafes. Her pop and Indie style impressed the judges and she was sent to judgement week. However, in her next performance, her performance was not strong enough and she was sent home.
Carly Jo Jackson – Now
In 2012, Carly’s original song “Wildflower” was featured in an independent film. The next year she released a music video for the song and her work earned recognition at many songwriting competitions. Carly Jo began school at Florida Atlantic University but she took a year off to focus on her music. It seems that year helped her as according to her website, she has many upcoming shows all over the state of Florida.
Grace VanderWaal – Then
At just 12 years-old, Grace VanderWaal took the America’s Got Talent stage along with her ukulele. Her infectious smile and personality had audiences cheering for her in addition to her beautiful voice. When she first introduced her voice to the judges she left them speechless and Howie Mandel later stated that she “is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen or heard.” She went onto win the eleventh season of the show and got a record deal with Columbia Records.
Grace VanderWaal – Now
Grace VanderWaal is still a young budding artist at just 14 years-old. When she won the competition she stated that she would donated a portion of the money to charity and use the rest to build tree houses for her and her sister. Grace headlined her own show in Las Vegas as well as the America’s Got Talent Holiday Spectacular. She has been able to perform her original songs on Live with Kelly and Megyn Kelly Today and she continues to perform.
Neal Boyd – Then
An early America’s Got Talent contestant, Missouri native Neal Boyd appeared on the show’s third season and wowed audiences and judges alike with his larger-than-life operatic stylings. Appearing as a solo act in New York City’s iconic Carnegie Hall before his televised debut, Boyd quit his job as a music teacher to study opera, and boy(d), did it ever pay off. The big man’s gentle giant presence and booming voice led to standing ovations from the crowd, and the judges, and eventually to winning a million dollars and a Las Vegas headline show.
Neal Boyd – Now
After the show, the pop opera singer was signed to Decca Records and later released his debut album, called My American Dream, in 2009. He performed for then-U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited Boyd’s home state of Missouri, while also singing before three other presidents: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Dubbed the “Voice of Missouri,” Boyd even ran for local office, but was defeated on two occasions. Sadly, he recently passed away at 42 of heart and kidney failure and liver disease.