Benicio Bryant’s brilliant run on “America’s Got Talent” didn’t end in victory, but the Maple Valley 15-year-old sure reached his goal.
Fans awarded the $1 million prize to Kodi Lee on Wednesday night after the 10 finalists performed Tuesday night during a two-hour live finals broadcast. Lee, who is blind and has autism, is a singer and a pianist.
Bryant did not make the top five, but performed one last time for fans Wednesday, literally letting his curly hair down — he usually has it in a ponytail — and singing an upbeat duet in Spanish with his idol, reggaeton star Ozuna. They performed a cover of DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” together — unusual for Bryant, who has distinguished himself by singing his own original songs throughout the show.
Bryant, 15, was competing against a field that included two youth choirs, a comedian, a black-light dance group and other young singers and instrumentalists. He tried out for the show because he felt like he was ready to introduce his music to a wider audience and start building a fan base.
“I wasn’t really prepared to make it this far, I guess,” Benicio said in an interview before the finals. “I was just really excited that I got the chance to go in general. I wasn’t really focused on winning or anything. But now I’m at the finals, and I’m super excited about that. The competition is tough. Whatever happens happens, right?”
Benicio skipped the start of his freshman year at Tahoma High School to compete on the NBC show. He immediately grabbed the judges’ attention during auditions this summer with his version of Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke.” Since then he’s been fiercely independent, choosing to perform original songs instead of covers.
It was a bold choice since audiences often prefer songs they’re familiar with. But Benicio felt he could best connect with the viewers by portraying himself authentically. Wearing sweaters and cuffed jeans, his hair usually pulled back in a ponytail, he debuted a new song in each appearance and advanced easily. He became one of the show’s favorites to win based on judge and audience reaction, and viewers backed that up when he reached the fan-voted portion of the show.
After his performance of new song “Six Strings (Because of You)” on Tuesday night’s finals — characterized by judges as the show’s most competitive — two of the four judges hailed his decision.
“All I have to say is it takes a lot for one person to stand on this stage and be able to hold a stage without bells and whistles and a band and all these things to fill it up,” Julianne Hough said. “It was just you, your voice and a guitar. That is when you know you are a star.”
The often picky Simon Cowell agreed: “You have my absolute respect. … All you did was you brought yourself on to the final tonight. The way you styled yourself, your choice of song, you wrote the song, no gimmicks, nothing other than who you are, which means you have gained my absolute respect and given yourself a real shot. Brilliant.”