He may only be 14, but you can tell Benicio Bryant already has star power.

You can see this in the first minute of his June 4 performance on “America’s Got Talent.” The young Maple Valley singer launches into his version of Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke,” and after a few uncertain measures, he finds his groove.

Almost immediately goose bumps arrive for “AGT” judge Julianne Hough, who looks down at her arm and says, “I’ve got chills.” As Benicio begins to unleash the power in his voice, the camera cuts back and forth between the lone singer and the now-enraptured judges.

Then the camera lands on the often cranky Simon Cowell, and he’s got that look on his face. You know, the one where he’s trying his damnedest to find a flaw. Laser beams for eyes. But as members of the audience begin to stand behind him in a wave, Cowell looks around and gives himself over to the moment.

When Benicio winds down, the judges stand and applaud. And then something amazing happens: Cowell gives Benicio a compliment as the group unanimously passes him through to the next round, an appearance that will air later this summer.

“I could see how scared you were, how nervous you were, yet you pulled it together,” the former “American Idol” and “The X Factor” judge said. “There’s something about you. And for some reason you reminded me of the very first time I auditioned Harry Styles, which was, he had this presence about him. I think you’re a real find.”


See? Star power.

“It’s such a blur to me,” Benicio said in a recent interview. “I barely remember anything from that moment. But I remember watching it on TV. Just seeing it was so insane. I was like, ‘How is this even happening?’”

It’s been like that a lot for Benicio over the last year or so. He flew to Germany where he competed on “The Voice Kids.” Somewhere in there was a performance of Prince’s “Purple Rain” with comedian Maya Rudolph’s tribute band Princess at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. And he got hooked up with Carlile to sing “The Joke” for the first time at a fundraiser at Tahoma High School in June 2018 and created a viral moment that has resonated in his life for the last year.

“I was super nervous,” Benicio said. “I met her and in rehearsal I totally goofed up all the words. I was just messing up left and right. I was like, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t going to go right.’ I don’t know what happened. I don’t know, but it was crazy. But for the actual performance I remembered every single word and I didn’t mess up. I was praying I wouldn’t mess up.”

His parents, Marlo and Jeremy Bryant, high-school sweethearts who grew up in Rainier Beach, were nervous for Beni after watching the rehearsal.

“When it came game time, he just pulled it together,” Jeremy Bryant said.

It’s always been like that for Benicio. Raised on Earth, Wind & Fire records and his dad’s occasional beatboxing, he was always a musical child who loved to perform in front of people. Beyond regular guitar lessons he’s mostly self-taught.


“I bought him a drum set when he was 4 because he’d literally drummed on everything,” Bryant said. “We had little nicks on all the furniture.”

At 8, he asked to perform in the amateur Maple Valley Idol. His competition was much older children. He finished second, and made a decision then and there.

“I think I was convinced at that moment when I was 8,” Benicio said. “It was so crazy. I’ve never really had anything else that I can remember. I’m not good at math. I’m not good at anything in school. So I was like, what else would I do? I really love this. It’s so much fun. I’d rather do this than anything else.”

So he set to it, graduating from performing for the family to busking wherever they’d let him with his guitar. He can often be found at T-Mobile Park — his dad is Big Jay, the Seattle Mariners’ team chef — where he’s a clubhouse regular singing for the players as they celebrate wins or pack for road trips.

One holiday he called up Kyle Seager to sing the third baseman and his family a Christmas song. He even nailed the “national anthem” in front of thousands of fans once, earning him the kind of high-five from manager Scott Servais that he usually reserves for walk-off homers or bases-loaded strikeouts.

Not long after the fundraiser last June, Carlile called him up with an offer to perform with her on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” She flew the family to New York and Benicio nailed it again. All of this activity caught the notice of fellow NBC show “America’s Got Talent” producers, who called asking him to audition.


It took some time for the family to make a decision. Though Benicio finished second in Germany, it had been a stressful experience. He would make friends with the other children, then knock them out in head-to-head situations.

“And he would just cry: ‘I just sent Flavio back to Austria,’” Jeremy Bryant said. “He felt so bad about it.” So when “AGT” called, “We were like, ‘eh.’ But he said, ‘Dad, it’s America. I’m not going to win that show, but I’d love to get some American fans.’”

No matter what happens the rest of the way, Benicio has achieved that goal already. After that opening performance, which aired in early June, his fan base grew exponentially. And not just in the U.S.

“My wife could just hear his Instagram going bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, because he went to 50,000 followers in 10 minutes,” Bryant said.

Bryant began responding with simple answers to messages from fans because Benicio didn’t have time.

“So I did like 100 of them,” he said. “And I woke up the next morning and there are 200 of them. This is the cool thing about the internet, social media. We’re talking to people in Egypt and Japan and Portugal. There’s hundreds of them now, and I’m just going like, like, like, like, like because I don’t have time to answer them all. This has just been all so surreal.”


“America’s Got Talent” airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC.