Tyler Butler-Figueroa got cancer and was tormented in school for it. But after a show-stopping performance on Tuesday night’s “America’s Got Talent,” the 11-year-old violinist from North Carolina earned the ultimate payback — from judge Simon Cowell, no less.
“I would like to say something on your behalf to the bullies,” the notoriously critical British judge said, before hitting the Golden Buzzer — automatically sending Tyler straight to the live shows.
“I feel proud,” Tyler said, with tears streaming down his face and the entire theater on their feet, amidst a golden confetti.
Tyler was only 4 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. “One day we were out to dinner, and I thought, ‘Something doesn’t look right with Tyler,’” his mother recounted. “He looked kinda pale. So a mother’s instinct said, let me get him to the emergency room.” Blood work confirmed her son had cancer in his blood. “It was the worst day of my life.”
Tyler was treated with chemotherapy, causing him to lose his hair. “I was sad and embarrassed,” he said. “[The bullies] would spread rumors to say that my cancer was contagious and they all wanted to stay away from me.”
But something miraculous happened when Tyler turned 7: he discovered the violin. There was a flyer for after-school lessons, and Tyler begged his mom if he could do it. “But no one in our family plays an instrument…and the violin,” she asked. Tyler kept practicing in his bedroom, and his mom saw the “sunshine” return to her bullied son. “Oh my God, I got my son back!”
“When I play the violin, it makes me forget about the bad stuff,” he says. “I didn’t want to just be the Kid with Cancer — so now I’m the Kid who Plays the Violin.”
Upon hitting the stage, judge Julianne Hough marveled at his shiny sneakers. But once Tyler started playing his rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” it was less about his footwear and more about his jaw-dropping talent. The performance got him a standing-O, and all Cowell could say was, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Hough commended him for “taking something that’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to go through, and turning it around and finding something that brings you joy.”
Cowell asked Tyler for an update. The good news is he’s been in remission for almost four years. “You know what you are is an amazing young man,” Cowell said. “We hear too many stories about being bullied. But I can tell you one thing: Most people are bullied because they are better than the people who bully them.”
And that’s when Simon send his “golden” message to Tyler’s tormentors.
Tyler’s audition has already racked up 4.8 million views on YouTube as of Wednesday morning. He’ll square off against fellow viral sensation, Kodi Lee, in the live rounds.
After the broadcast, the “AGT” crew took to Twitter to sing Tyler’s praises.
“This violinist left me speechless,” judge Howie Mandel tweeted. “Congratulations bud.”
Judge Gabrielle Union also tweeted to “@TButlerFigueroa: you are as real as they come. A true star and I am so in awe of your immense talent. Bullies, bye. #agt.”