The auditions stage of America's Got Talent came to an end just in time for Season 16 to head into a brief break for the Tokyo Olympics, so the time is now to look back at the standout acts so far to predict who has the best chance of taking the grand prize. The obvious standouts after the auditions are of course the golden buzzer winners, as four of the five most recent AGT champions received a golden buzzer early in the competition. The exception was Shin Lim in Season 13, who really shone in his magic act after the initial audition by taking risks.
So the odds seem pretty good that one of the Season 16 golden buzzer winners will earn the $1 million prize, or at least make it very close to the top spot. Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to the acts that stay and the acts that go once the golden buzzer protection no longer applies. So, as we wait for AGT to return with the next stage of the competition, let's look at the acts that earned the buzzer and where they rank when it comes to possibly winning it all!
6. Jimmie Herrod
Singer Jimmie Herrod won his golden buzzer from Sofia Vergara, and it was after overcoming what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. No sooner had Herrod announced that he would be singing "Tomorrow" from Annie did Simon Cowell announced that "Tomorrow" is his "worst song in the world." Herrod's performance was great enough that even Cowell got over his hatred of the song, but I find myself wondering if a lot of what's so satisfying about his song is more that he proved Cowell wrong than showcasing a talent that will beat all the competition moving forward. Plus, there are a lot of skilled singers still in the running, including several of the other golden buzzer winners.
5. Northwell Health Nurse Choir
Northwell Health Nurse Choir received the first golden buzzer of Season 16 courtesy of Howie Mandel, comprised of 18 nurses with a goal of spreading a message of hope and resilience. Their version of "Stand By Me" was well-done and a joy to watch, and groups can also do quite well on AGT, but no group has ever won a season of AGT. They earned their standing ovation, and I don't think anybody could blame Mandel for hitting the golden buzzer for them. But there was also an emotional pull to the Northwell Health Nurse Choir for all their work in healthcare on top of their singing, which will likely be a factor moving forward for better or worse.
4. Léa Kyle
Heidi Klum gave her Season 16 golden buzzer to Léa Kyle, whose quick-change routine turned out to be as much a magic act as quick changing, and she was actually one of my favorites of the auditions stage. As the judges noted, there is no other act like hers, so she's certainly one of a kind. That said, I can't help but wonder how much she can elevate her performances to beat the competition moving forward, since there are limits to quick-changing, and fans tend to vote other kinds of acts ahead. Still, the style of her act seems well-suited to a Las Vegas stage, so we definitely shouldn't count her out.
3. Victory Brinker
9-year-old Victory Brinker blew the judges and Terry Crews away with her performance of "Juliet's Waltz," so much so that they broke the rules and made history by hitting the golden buzzer together after they'd all used up their own golden buzzer. Brinker proved that she's phenomenally talented at a very young age in her debut performance, and is so gosh dang adorable that I don't think there's any way she's not lasting at least through another round beyond the auditions. My only hesitation is that while she's a phenomenally talented 9-year-old, the competition is stiff with adults in the mix, and many singers. I could see her potentially going all the way, but it may not be her time yet.
2. World Taekwondo Demonstration Team
World Taekwondo Demonstration Team showed off a kind of physicality that doesn't often take the America's Got Talent stage, at least with such a level of choreography in sync with a large group of performers. They smashed boards, defied gravity, and put on a demonstration that was as much dance as athletic display, so who could blame host Terry Crews for hitting the golden buzzer in their honor? Admittedly, as noted above, no group has won a season of America's Got Talent before, but this is a group that was supposed to perform at the Olympics and ended their first performance on a strong message. For me, their odds of sticking around AGT for a while are pretty great.
After just one performance, Nightbirde has a lot of factors working in her favor when it comes to the road to possible America's Got Talent championship. She performed an original song, which can backfire on AGT, but instead earned her a golden buzzer from Simon Cowell himself. Nightbirde's song was also based on the last year of her life, and she revealed that she's been dealing with cancer and is still dealing with it. She has the singing talent, can clearly write authentic songs for herself, and has the kind of story that I can't imagine anybody rooting against. A golden buzzer from Cowell is about the highest vote of confidence a singer can get, and I'm expecting her to go far.
All of this said, nothing is settled on America's Got Talent until the final votes are countws, and I even had a hard time just deciding on the top three of the golden buzzers, so the rest of the season will undoubtedly see some difficult departures and tough cuts. Plus, a golden buzzer in the auditions round doesn't guarantee a win in a season of AGT. Just look at Shin Lim, who earned the win by raising the stakes for himself with each performance despite not getting the buzzer, and Brandon Leake, who won Season 15 with a first-of-its-kind act after getting a golden buzzer. It's anybody's game at this point... except probably Sethward. Sorry, Sethward!