Australian travel agent Ben Trigger made America’s Got Talent history on Tuesday as he became the first contestant to push the Golden Buzzer for himself.
The 25-year-old dancer caused golden confetti to rain down onstage as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Ben laid down on the buzzer while kicking his legs up at the judges’ table during a rousing, hilarious dance to Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1979 hit Boogie Wonderland.
Australian dancer: Ben Trigger made America’s Got Talent history on Tuesday’s episode when he pressed the Golden Buzzer for himself
‘Ben! Ben!’ called out judge Simon Cowell, 59, reminding the contestant as he twirled himself back onstage, looking thrilled. ‘It’s supposed to be us, not you.’
The Brisbane-based performer surprised the audience by stripping down from a blazer to a sheer bodysuit with cutouts, sequins and nipple tassels, which he shook in Simon’s face, to the delight of the judging panel.
Called ‘plump boy’ by his dance teacher as a child, Ben won admittance to one of Australia’s best dance schools at age 12, but his career stalled fast, with his size getting him rejected from auditions before they even began.
‘Growing up, my life completely revolved around dancing,’ he explained. ‘But the dance world has such a structured look of what you should be, and being a gay, fat dancer wasn’t it.’
Surprising performance: Simon Cowell was surprised when Ben stripped down to a sheer bodysuit with cutouts, sequins and nipple tassels
Trained dancer: Ben revealed that he wanted to dance on Broadway as a youth
At 18, Ben ‘seriously dislocated’ his knee and was sidelined for three years.
For the past seven years, Ben said he had been holding down a ‘dead-end job.’
‘I am here to prove to the people that didn’t believe in me, the bullies, that I am a dancer,’ he said.
Knee injury: The contestant said he suffered a knee injury at age 18 that derailed his dancing
He’s back: Ben was determined to prove that he was a dancer
When he set off the Golden Buzzer, the room went crazy.
‘In all the time I have been here, this is my favorite golden buzzer moment,’ said judge Howie Mandel, 63.
‘I feel like I’ve eaten the craziest milkshake in the world, with everything mixed up, with you at the top,’ added Simon, calling him ‘hilarious.’
Up close: Simon got an up close view of Ben’s dancing and nipple tassels
Table dance: Ben danced while sitting on the judges’ table
The moment: The dancer leaned back and pressed the Golden Buzzer accidentally
Confetti falling: Show host Terry Crews reacted as Ben pressed the Golden Buzzer
Going in, Ben had hoped for the approval of judge Julianne Hough, 30, a celebrated dancer who told him to work ‘what your mama gave you.’
She was the only judge left with a Golden Buzzer, but when Simon asked if she’d like to give Ben the honor, she declined.
The two-hour episode featured a wide range of acts with varying degrees of talent.
Golden moment: Ben was excited as golden confetti fell from the ceiling
Golden gal: Julianne Hough declined to yield her Golden Buzzer decision to Ben
The audience swooned over the transcendent artistry of the Verba Shadow Group from Ukraine, led by the husband and wife team Ruslan Evgenievich Bokach and Lyudmila Kiselitsa.
The two performers met nine years before in university, when they first attempted a bare-bones version of their storytelling technique using a similar approach that failed to win at a talent contest.
Lyudmila felt optimistic this time.
Ukraine group: The audience swooned over the transcendent artistry of the Verba Shadow Group from Ukraine
‘Our performance tonight is a story of love and hope,’ she announced before their audition began.
As a version of Ellie Goulding’s 2015 hit Love Me Like You Do played in the background, the duo portrayed a couple in love, getting married, having a baby, and moving into a home before the husband went to war.
He returned home a widower, but raised his child and saw him get married to his own love. Finally an old man, he met his bride again in death.
The dance troupe used only their bodies, lights and basic materials to form a shadow backdrop against which the story played out. In seconds, they built then collapsed their ‘props,’ fashioning everything from a gift box, helicopter and house frame to a wedding bower and gravestone.
Touching story: Verba Shadow portrayed a couple in love, getting married, having a baby, and moving into a home before the husband went to war
‘I’m blown away,’ said judge Gabrielle Union, 46, afterward. ‘It was a rollercoaster of emotion. I thought it was achingly beautiful and haunting, and I absolutely loved it.’
The act, which was aired in a teaser to YouTube five days ago, has since garnered more than three million hits online.
Equally transporting was a joyful performance by the Ndlovu Youth Choir from Limpopo, South Africa.
Youth choir: Ndlovu Youth Choir from Limpopo, South Africa impressed the judges and audience
Singing a song entitled ‘My African Dream,’ the performers—many of them orphans—conveyed their sense of hope for the future despite the struggle they faced to survive back home.
Electricity and running water were often scarce there, explained the choir’s conductor, Raif Schmit, who had been at its helm for 10 years.
‘The challenges these kids face, it’s devastating,’ he admitted, adding that many of their parents had died, leaving them to head up their families.
‘Our dream is to let children around the world know that just because you are born in poverty, doesn’t mean you are poverty,’ Schmit explained.
Tough circumstances: The youth choir conveyed their sense of hope for the future despite the struggle they faced to survive back home in one of the poorest regions of South Africa
‘My father passed away two years ago,’ testified one of the young singers in the choir, tears rolling down his face. ‘Everything changed.’
‘It was very difficult, and I have to take care of all of us… I used to feel like the world is closing up for me. How is it going to be okay?’
But young women from the choir said that it had helped them smile again, and dream new dreams—that suddenly, ‘the sky was the limit.’
Schmit burst with pride at the mere thought of the choir on the AGT stage.
The judges: Howie Mandel, Gabrielle Union, Julianne Hough and Simon smiled while watching
‘They come from one of the poorest communities in the world, yet these kids manage to lift themselves up,’ he said.
After the group’s spirited performance, the crowd was on its feet.
Within minutes, they had secured their place in the competition.
‘From the second you walked out, I think this whole place was rooting for you, and you did not disappoint,’ said Gabrielle, adding, ‘1,000 times yes.’
New judge: Gabrielle joined season 14 of America’s Got Talent as a judge
Lamont Landers, 27, didn’t start performing until he was 19, but quickly made up for lost time, gigging ‘nonstop’ for the last three years.
The Decatur, Alabama, native set out to sing Al Green’s 1972 classic Let’s Stay Together, but Simon was nonplussed, saying it didn’t take enough risks.
Lamont came back that afternoon with a searing version of Robyn’s 2010 track Dancing On My Own, which he’d learned in just 30 minutes.
Risk avoidance: Lamont Landers set out to sing Al Green’s 1972 classic Let’s Stay Together, but Simon was nonplussed, saying it didn’t take enough risks
Despite a few fits and starts, he won the judges over, earning two standing ovations and a ‘Whoa!’ from a smiling Simon.
‘Sometimes, someone gives you a little bit of advice, and it opens the door,’ Simon offered. ‘I think the door has just opened for you here.’
‘Those frustrations are when breakthroughs happen,’ agreed Julianne, as Lamont was sent through.
Second try: The singer came back later and performed a version of Robyn’s 2010 track Dancing On My Own that earned him four yes votes
The judges themselves got dragged into the action onstage twice.
Opera singer Nick Williams and wife Lindsay, a violinist, began their audition by performing a bland version of ‘O Sole Mio,’ to the distaste of judge Simon, who gave them their first ‘X.’
Married six years, the duo had met after a friend insisted they’d be each other’s soulmate. But they had been having a tough time of it, with Nick playing restaurants and weddings to make ends meet.
Dynamic duo: Opera singer Nick Williams and wife Lindsay, a violinist, began their audition by performing a bland version of ‘O Sole Mio’
Their fortunes may have changed the moment Nick, singing, leaned back against a board onstage—and Lindsay started to throw knives at him.
As Nick continued, she threw one with her toes.
She lit one on fire, then threw it with her toes while blindfolded.
Nick survived and the couple got a standing ovation.
Danger act: Lindsay unexpectedly started throwing knives at Nick with her feet
‘My God, I wasn’t expecting that,’ said Simon.
He disliked Nick’s voice, but his fellow judges voted the duo through.
Then Simon asked to go onstage and have Lindsey throw knives at him.
She did so, poorly, with her feet.
His turn: Simon asked to go onstage and have Lindsay throw a knives at him
The audience cringed as her knife hit low on the board, nowhere near Simon, but he was charmed, and changed his vote to a ‘yes.’
For his part, Howie was challenged to deal with his mental health issues—about which he has often spoken publicly—live and onstage.
In a departure from anything the show had ever seen before, two Italian psychologists called him up to test phobia-fighting virtual reality software.
Vote changed: The audience cringed as her knife hit low on the board, nowhere near Simon, but he was charmed, and changed his vote to a ‘yes’
Simone Barbato and Lorenzo di Natale, from Rome, aimed to show those struggling with fear and anxiety that they were ‘capable of things they never imagined.’
‘We often say that when a person overcomes phobias, that person is actually finding their own talent,’ said Simone. ‘So our talent is to help others [unlock] their talent.’
Howie stood on a green backdrop, but the VR goggles he wore provided a portal into another world—one in which he walked atop a canyon ridge.
Mental illness: Simone Barbato and Lorenzo di Natale, from Rome, aimed to show those struggling with fear and anxiety that they were ‘capable of things they never imagined’
Before him, hanging from ropes over a chasm, was a man.
Howie, who avoids heights and shaking hands, was encouraged to pull him to safety.
As he went toward the man he saw, he also grabbed the hand of a real person who’d slipped onstage, and moved through his fear to the other side.
Virtual reality: Howie took part in the virtual reality demonstration about overcoming phobias
When he took off the goggles, he was astounded to see a real man.
‘Who are you?’ he cried, shaken.
‘Howie! Howie! Howie!’ the audience chanted.
‘I was trying to think, ‘This is pretend, this is virtual reality,’ but the virtual kept going away and it was really my reality,’ Howie said, as the contestants went through to the next round.
His reality: Howie was astonished at the blending of virtual reality with his own
The judges were particularly smitten with several young performers.
‘Best friends’ Isabelle Howard, 11, and Easton, 14, danced to Fleurie’s Soldier Keep On Marching On, movingly enacting the story of a young man who had gone off to war, and the sister who didn’t want him to go.
Showing an athleticism and emotion that belied their years, the duo easily won four yeses from the impressed judges.
Young performers: Isabelle Howard, 11, and Easton, 14, danced to Fleurie’s Soldier Keep On Marching On and advanced
‘Unbelievable, powerful, masterful performance,’ said Gabrielle. ‘Way to go.’
Emanne Beasha, 10, from North Port, Florida, seemed like a typical kid, carrying her stuffed unicorn Uni to the audition and bouncing up and down excitedly on the stage.
But her rendition of Nessun Dorma was staggeringly mature.
‘You are absolutely fantastic,’ Simon said, as she went through.
Powerful voice: Emanne Beasha, 10, from North Port, Florida, seemed like a typical kid, carrying her stuffed unicorn Uni to the audition until she started singing opera
Lukas Pratschker, 22, brought his nine-year-old border collie Falco onstage for what he called a ‘canine freestyle.’
Dancing with his owner to Kenny Loggins’ 1984 tune Footloose, the dog walked on his hind legs, stood on top of Lukas’ shoes, turned in circles, crossed his paws in time, jumped on Lukas’ back and did rope tricks.
It was a last performance before his dog retired, Lukas said.
Canine freestyle: Lukas and dog Falco performed a ‘canine freestyle’ routine
‘He has amazing personality, but importantly so do you,’ Simon noted. ‘I think this is the best dog act we’ve had this year.’
Lukas carried his pup offstage after getting four yeses.
Another contestant wasn’t so lucky.
Last performance: Falco was performing for the last time before retirement
‘My name is Death,’ said a stand-up comedian with a sonorous voice, dressed as the Grim Reaper. ‘I am 2.4 billion years old, and I live with my dog Gordon in California.’
‘Reaping is definitely not the easiest job, but there some perks,’ he added. ‘I’ve got to meet every creative person that I’ve ever admired, ever. The bad part is they’re not usually very happy to see me.’
The crowd didn’t get his dark humor, nor did the judges.
‘He died onstage,’ host Terry Crews, 50, said, as Death got four Xs.
America’s Got Talent will return next Tuesday on NBC.
Killing it? Death tried out a stand-up routine but his dark humor got four X votes
Good one: Terry quipped that Death died onstage