America’s Got Heart: Performers represent the best of the country, but really they’re just like us

AGT LiveAs America prepares to sail into another decade, it’s more than fair to say that things are changing.

It’s not just health care or civil rights or anything debated in the halls of Congress — it’s also the American dream.

Based on the wealth of reality programming being beamed to the nation’s televisions, it’s clear that for an increasing number of people, the new American dream is to show the world their skills, their talents. It’s to stand in front of audiences, thundering applause echoing in their ears.

With that in mind, it’s plain to see the draw of “America’s Got Talent Live” — the Las Vegas stage version of the popular television show, hosted by Jerry Springer.

The stage version features acts pulled from the finalists of Season Four of the television show (including the $1 million winner, Kevin Skinner) performing their myriad skills in front of a live audience, five nights a week at Planet Hollywood.

Rolled all together, the acts make up the kind of variety show Vegas audiences love best — one that leaves them in awe — but the show has a little something extra.

It also gives the crowds a glimpse of a life that could be theirs. It’s not hard to leave the showroom thinking, “That could be me.”

For the acts in the production, it’s been a quick transition into Sin City stardom. And although millions watched them on television all summer, it may not have hit home just how normal the stars are.
The Texas Tenors, a group of three friends, from, yes, Texas were just trying to get by when auditions for the show were held in Houston earlier this year.

Jerry Springer arrives at the opening night after party for "America's Got Talent Live" at Planet Hollywood Casino Resort. Photo by Denise Truscello

Jerry Springer arrives at the opening night after party for "America's Got Talent Live" at Planet Hollywood Casino Resort. Photo by Denise Truscello

The three had all sung individually before and when the auditions came up, they put together their group to grab at the chance to make a better life for themselves and their families, Marcus Collins, one of the Tenors, said.

Collins was on unemployment, “doing whatever odd job [he] could do,” while JC Fisher and John Hagen were also plugging away at life.

“We got together to try to make something happen for our families, to try and survive this economic disaster,” Collins said.

Fast forward a few months and the three are singing their hearts out for Vegas audiences with just a little bit of luck and a lot of talent.

“We’ve gone from zero to a million,” Collins said.

The Tenors aren’t the only act with an everyman appeal. Before each section of the show, an introduction video is shown, explaining where they came from (both metaphorically and literally).

There’s a young dancer, Hairo Torres, finding his own style and way, and Lawrence Beaman, who could be your neighbor, save for a voice like Barry White. There’s Recycled Percussion, energetic young guys, making music from garbage cans.

And it’s hard to overlook Season Four’s winner, Kevin Skinner, who was a chicken catcher before playing his guitar right into stardom.

Opera singer Barbara Padilla struggled with cancer before finding her way to the show and Las Vegas. Although she was told the treatment would affect her vocal cords, Padilla made it through and is living her dream.

“This is what we want to do as singers,” Padilla said. “We want to sing, and the opportunity to sing every day is priceless. It’s definitely like a dream come true.”

Padilla was a stay-at-home mom before her life changed course and although she said she misses her daughter, homesicknesses hasn’t quite set in because, “I’m just having such a good time,” she said. “It’s just such a different experience, an experience I would have never had if I hadn’t been [on the show].”
If the Tenors or Padilla don’t strike a chord, consider Grandma Lee — a 75-year-old grandma who tells jokes with the timing and pace of some of today’s hottest (and youngest) comics.

When her husband, a Marine, died in 1995, Lee went after her dream full bore. Although her husband only saw her perform once, Lee says in her introduction video that she thinks he’d be proud — and with good reason.

While on the phone for an interview for this story, Lee was momentarily held up as fans clamored around her for pictures and autographs.

“The audience is awesome,” Lee said. “It’s unbelievable, I’m still getting used to it.”
Because the performers were on television before making it to Sin City, audiences, to some extent, are built in.

“They recognize and were fans of these people all summer long,” said Andy Felsher, senior vice president of FremantleMedia, which produces the show.

Padilla said she sees this in the response she gets from the audience.

“Some of them are huge fans and they come to see us because they were actually waiting for something like this, to come see us,” she said. “And they actually go to see what they saw on TV, but this is so much better, live is so much better. They have an idea of what the space is, they see the lights and everything that happens.”

But why Vegas? First, the Vegas show was part of the prize package for the winner. “It’s the entertainment capital of the world, the perfect spot,” Felsher said.

But, according to Felsher to as well as many of the performers, it’s also just a good fit for Sin City. “There are all kinds of acts in Vegas and we’ve just melded them into one variety show,” Felsher said.

Fisher, from then Texas Tenors, sees it similarly. “It’s the ultimate variety show, dancing, singing, banging on drums and Jerry Springer, in a little over an hour, it’s fun,” he said. “It gives people a chance to see one show, with a variety consistent with the Vegas variety, but also the chance to see people you voted for or rooted for in the show.”

And if you take just a little bit further, beyond Vegas, back to what the show represents, there’s that bigger, dream-fulfilled appeal.

As Collins, one of the Tenors put it, “I think ‘America’s Got Talent Live’ represents the dreams and the hopes of everyday people and gives people a chance to see a show where we’re just like them, but we gave it a shot,” he said. “We took a chance and here we are and we made it happen and they can do it, too.”


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