Fifteen years ago one show transformed summer television and reinvented the talent contest in America. It has since expanded all over the globe to showcase the widest range of dangerous, funny, heart-warming, stomach-churning and incredible auditions imaginable.
To commemorate its 15-year milestone, “America’s Got Talent” took us back through some of the most epic performances throughout the years and unveiled its Top 15 Most Viral Moments. Below, follow along as we recap all those moments in our minute-by-minute blog of the “15th Anniversary Special.”
8:02 p.m. – Host Terry Crews broke down the series statistics: 5 hosts, 12 judges, over 200,000 auditions and over 15 billion online views.
8:03 p.m. – Series creator and current judge Simon Cowell, admitted that the show was hard to sell at first, due in large part to a “terrible” pilot. Based on the clip he showed us, we know the show improved and as he said “the concept was great.” Howie Mandel points out that the show has evolved over the years by getting bigger, better and crazier, highlighting the introduction of the Golden Buzzer as a key moment in the show’s history.
8:05 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #15: Special Head with 111 million views since 2013. Howie and Heidi Klum recall thinking that it was going to be a horrible audition, up until the point that he instantly levitated himself. Because it was such an abrupt shock, the judges knew that it was going to go viral because people would want to share and figure it out online.
8:09 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #14: Light Balance with 119 million views since 2017. Simon reintroduces the act by saying that “if anything defines what we wanted the show to be, it’s them.” In rewatching their audition you can tell that the judges were incredibly entertained by their act from the very beginning, and throughout. It makes you believe what Simon says because you can totally imagine seeing them make a ton of money entertaining crowds in Vegas with that act. Also, never forget that this was the Golden Buzzer act from host Tyra Banks.
8:12 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #13: V.Unbeatable with 120 million views since 2019. Howie says that he’s “never seen act like that in [his] life and doesn’t know if [he] ever will again.” Because of their insane precision and their ability to move in unison despite being such a large group, Simon says he uses them as an example of the value of rehearsing. Keep in mind, they did return for “The Champions” and became, well, champions.
8:20 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #12: Shin Lim with 121 million views since 2018. Terry points out that Shin is the only magician to make the viral moment list. Simon remembers that Shin’s audition followed a really terrible magic act and so when Shin said he was also a magician he wasn’t that excited, but as soon as he began Simon was mesmerized. Heidi calls Shin’s close up magic “so special” because he can do things that the judges had never seen before. Not only did Shin win his first season, but he was also named the first winner of “The Champions” as well.
8:24 p.m. – Simon tells us that what he loves most about Heidi is that she’s “very focused, very funny,” but also gets easily distracted by guys with their shirt off. We’re all very familiar with her hand goggles by now, but as Howie points out, yes, she uses them mostly with hot guys and, um, pigs that she winds up kissing.
8:30 p.m. – Simon finds it almost unexplainable why dangerous acts are so compelling, but they just are. Sofia Vergara recalls having to pull swords out of Brett Loudermilk‘s throat this season, calling it a “horrific” experience, for instance. Over the years, we’ve seen people blow up buses with themselves in it and people shoot themselves in the chest with flaming arrows.
8:32 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #11: Aaron Crow with 147 million views since 2018. What made Aaron so intimidating to Heidi is that he always arrives on stage without speaking. In his first audition, he brought Howie up to the stage so that he could whack a pineapple off his head with a sword after covering his own eyes in multiple ways, including pouring candle wax over them.
8:35 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #10: Tyer Butler Figueroa with 149 million views since 2019. Thought she wasn’t a judge at the time, Sofia notes that Tyler’s audition was special for everyone because it touched their hearts that such a young person could survive cancer and endure bullying at school and still have the courage to come to the show to perform in front of so many people. In this instance, Simon says that he didn’t even think about giving Tyler the Golden Buzzer, that instead his hand just went for it.
8:38 p.m. – The other judges discuss Simon’s impact on the show, like how many of the acts want to impress Simon above everyone else. Heidi thinks it has something to do with the fact that Simon’s made so many people stars over the years.
8:45 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #9: Celine Tam with 159 million views since 2017. One of the most memorable aspects of Celine’s first audition is how her entire family was obsessed with Celine Dion. After the introduction it wasn’t a surprise that she’d be singing a Celine song, but the surprise came once she erupted into the biggest notes on “My Heart Will Go On” and hit every one of them.
8:48 p.m. – Among the show’s “craziest” acts were singers spitting water into each other’s mouths and the unintentionally funny dancers Charles and Rose. To the judges, the crazy and quirky acts are important to the show because the show is the only place you get to see them.
8:50 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #8: Men with Pans with 231 million views since 2017. Howie considered this one of those acts that is “willing to do anything to make it.” Though Mel B and Simon buzzed them at the time, and sticks by it to this day, Sofia actually thinks it’s a fun act and Heidi recalls the act being “uncomfortably funny.”
8:57 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #7: Tape Face with 242 million views since 2016. He never had to say a word, but Tape Face remains one of Simon’s favorite acts that he calls “stupid, but stupid good.” His miming and ventriloquism using oven mitts (that kind of look like cute whales) singing a Lionel Richie song to each other was “so simple, yet so clever” according to Heidi. But it was the act of dancing with an imaginary woman, using his own arms as the woman, that led Howie and Simon to call him “brilliant.”
9:01 p.m. – Howie’s impact on the show is his knack for comedy, as well as his knack for irritating Simon from across the judges table. Howie says that he’s always made fun of for being an “overreactor,” but he says he legitimately gets into the acts and often wants to join them in their fun.
9:07 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #6: Grace VanderWaal with 260 million views since 2016. Grace’s strength in the competition was that she sang her own songs and played an instrument not often used, the ukulele. Simon likens her first audition to when he saw Kelly Clarkson for the first time. Original song hater Howie would have called Grace’s choice to sing an original too big of a risk, but Simon says it was “absolutely the right thing to do.” At least Howie can now admit that her song blew him away and surprised him, so much so that he hit the Golden Buzzer for her.
9:12 p.m. – Simon goes on to talk about how successful Grace was after the show, including albums and movies, and calls her one of their “best ever competitors.” Other successful acts include Olate Dogs, Lindsey Stirling, Melissa Villasenor, Preacher Lawson, Sofie Dossi, Darci Lynne Farmer, Kehlani (who performed in the group POPLYFE), Jackie Evancho, Jabbawockeez, Mat Franco, Shin, Piff the Magic Dragon and Terry Fator who scored a Vegas contract for $100 million.
9:19 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #5: Angelica Hale with 296 million views since 2017. Angelica’s viral moment was actually her Judge Cuts performance, differing from most acts on the list who earned them in their first audition. Simon singles Angelica out as someone who really wants to win and that’s going to make her successful in all aspects of her life. At the time, guest judge Chris Hardwick had strong enough feelings that he chose her as his special Golden Buzzer to pass the round and go to the live shows.
9:23 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #4: Courtney Hadwin with 310 million views since 2018. Howie said that Courtney actually delayed her audition once because she was too nervous to go on stage, and even then she was incredibly nervous when she did go out. But the magic of Courtney was that once she began performing the nerves disappeared and she became a whole beast of an artist. The juxtaposition of her two energies likely added to the viral interest and certainly part of what made the judges fall in love with her, especially Howie who gave her his Golden Buzzer.
9:31 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #3: Darci Lynne Farmer with 350 million since 2017. In her first audition, Darci Lynne brought her bunny Petunia along for her ventriloquist act. Howie says that ventriloquism has always been successful on the show, but never by someone as young as Darci Lynne, which contributed to the interest in her audition. You could see in Simon’s face at the end of her audition that he knew she’d become a huge star because that final note? Wow. The big shock is that she’d only being doing the talent for two years when she came to the show. But it was Mel B that got to call Darci Lynne her own with the Golden Buzzer.
9:36 p.m. – The judges run through some proof that both super young acts and advanced age acts can be successful on the show. We’ve seen dancers in their 90s and singers in the single digits of age. Simon says that “anyone can enter” is one of the chief rules of the show because it allows you to find the actual best without restriction. Howie says that one of the most heartwarming aspects of the show is seeing the older people still trying to achieve their dreams.
9:43 p.m. – There is also a long history of surprising acts that catch the judges completely off guard. Sofia says that “not judging a book by the cover” is an important thing to remember when watching the acts, like you know a chicken that plays the piano. Then there’s young kids singing death metal, a young man that sings opera, a contortionist pianist, and an act that hypnotized Howie into getting over his fear of shaking people’s hands.
9:45 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #2: Zurcaroh with 423 million views since 2018. What Howie finds most memorable about this act is how they “opened up the possibilities of the stage.” He also says that “it didn’t look human” how they were able to incorporate balancers, acrobats and gymnasts all into one audition. Heidi called it “90 seconds of wow” and Simon called it as close to “spectacle” as they’ll ever get, which is why Tyra ran from across the stage to hit the Golden Buzzer.
9:54 p.m. – Most Viral Moment #1: Kodi Lee with 432 million views since 2019. With his mom introducing him, the judges found out early on that Kodi is autistic and blind, but that music “saved his life.” One thing Howie loved most about his audition is the pep talk his mom gave him before Kodi began, but the worry the judges had that he wouldn’t come through were immediately alleviated once he opened his mouth to sing. Heidi calls his journey on the show a “beautiful story” for him and his family as well as for everyone. In her only season as a judge, Gabrielle Union was lucky enough to be the one to give Kodi his well-deserved Golden Buzzer. Simon says the enduring aspect of Kodi’s audition is that even in 20 years it’ll still have that impact.
9:59 p.m. – Simon believes the show can live forever. Do you? And which of the top 15 moments is your favorite – or is there another one you wish had made the list?