11-Year-Old America’s Got Talent Contestant Overcomes Difficult Life Challenge, Gets Golden Buzzer

By Colin Fredericson

Simon Cowell gave the golden buzzer on “America’s Got Talent” to an 11-year-old violin player with a heartbreaking life story.

Tyler Butler-Figueroa told the judges that he started playing violin at seven-and-a-half-years-old. He said he started playing the violin because he was being bullied at school. The audience was very moved.

But the reason why the bullying had started got an even bigger reaction from the audience, as well as the judges.

“Do you know why you were being bullied?” asked judge Julianne Hough.

“It’s because I had cancer. I almost died,” Tyler responded.

During a backstage segment with his mom, the boy from North Carolina said he was diagnosed with Leukemia at four-and-a-half-years-old.

Tyler’s mother then recalled the moment that she discovered Tyler was ill.

“One day we were out to dinner, and we said ‘Something doesn’t look right with Tyler.’ He turned kind of pale,” she said.

Tyler was taken to the emergency room. Blood tests revealed that he had cancer.

“It was the worst day of my life,” his mother said.

Tyler explained that the bullying started after his chemotherapy treatments began.

“When I lost my hair, I was really sad and embarrassed at the same time to go to school.

“They used to make fun of me and laugh at me because I was different.”

The mother said that after starting violin class, Tyler changed.

“Once he started that class, it was like a sunshine. He was just full of energy, and happy. I was like, ‘Oh my god! I got my son back!” she said.

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“When I play the violin, it helps me forget about all the bad stuff,” said Tyler. “I just didn’t want to be the kid with cancer. So now I’m the kid who plays the violin.”

Once it was time to perform, Tyler played a violin solo of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” a song from 2012 by Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson is famous for being the first ever winner of American Idol, in a season that also featured Simon Cowell as one of the judges. Tyler’s violin featured a depiction of an orange ribbon—a symbol used to raise awareness about leukemia.

After his performance and subsequent standing ovation, Hough shared with Tyler her reaction to his story.

“I just want to commend you for taking something that’s probably been one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to go through, and turning it around and finding something that brings you joy,” Hough said.

“Most people are bullied because they’re better than the people who bully them,” Simon told Tyler.

“I think you have such an amazing talent, such a personality, and I would like to say something, on your behalf, to the bullies,” Simon said, just before he reached across the table towards the golden buzzer to give it his tap of approval.

Host Terry Crews asked Tyler’s mother how she felt about Tyler’s win. “It’s a dream come true. Tyler was at the very bottom, and look at him now, on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ ”

After the win, America’s Got Talent posted a video of Tyler reacting to his win.

“I was confident that I would get a yes to go to the next level, but I never thought I would get the golden buzzer. Simon was telling me to not let bullies stop me from what I’m doing in life,” Tyler said.

“When the gold was falling, it just felt like it was in slow motion,” Tyler added. “It just feels like a dream come true.”