America’s Got Talent is known for its crazy circus acts, but the occasional audition is really haunted. The one that resonated this Tuesday was the evening’s final performer, Jane Marczewski, aka Nightbirde – a 30-year-old singer and three-time cancer survivor whose ethereal original ballad “It’s OK” not only left the judges in tears, but earned Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer, which took her straight to this season’s live shows.
Nightbirde took the stage looking thin and frail, but she radiated such calmness and strength that when she revealed she had “some cancer in my lungs and spine and my liver” and that the doctors now only told her 2 percent chance of survival, shocked Judge Howie Mandel gasped, “So… you’re… not OK?” She replied very calmly, “Well, not in all respects, no.”
“You have a beautiful smile and a beautiful glow, and no one would know,” Howie then told Nightbirde, to which she replied with a stoic smile, “Thank you. It is important for everyone to know that I am so much more than the bad things that happen to me. … You cannot wait until life is no longer difficult before you decide to be happy.”
While the folk pop chanteuse stopped sharing details about her cancer battle during her time on AGT, a blog post on her website goes into detail about her harrowing ordeal. On New Year’s Eve 2019, Marczewski was diagnosed with terminal cancer after “countless tumors” were found on her lungs, liver, lymph nodes, ribs and spine, and she was told she had six months to live. In July 2020, she went into remission, but tragically, the cancer quickly returned. “I’ve had cancer three times now and have barely passed 30,” reads the singer’s blog post. “There are times when I wonder what I must have done to deserve such a story. Sometimes I fear that when I die and meet God, He will say that I have disappointed Him, or insulted Him, or insulted Him. Maybe he’ll say that I just never learned the lesson, or that I wasn’t grateful enough. But one thing I know for sure: he can never say he didn’t know me.”
Nightbirde’s raw but eloquent manner with words translated to the lyrics of “It’s OK”, and her AGT performance was so quietly compelling that when she finished and shyly stepped back from the mic, there was a long, puzzled pause—before a choked Simon gave a simple”Wow”, followed by the entire theater which eventually erupted into a standing ovation.
“Your voice is stunning, absolutely stunning,” Simon said. “There was something about that song, like you almost… casually told us what you’re going through…” Simon then did one of his little fake-outs, teasing: “I’m… not I’m going to give you a yes – I’m going to give you something different!” And with that, he hit the Golden Buzzer, as the overjoyed and overwhelmed Marczewski fell to her knees and wept happy tears, and Simon took to the stage to hug her.
“I have a 2 percent chance of survival, but 2 percent is not zero,” Nightbirde told AGT host Terry Crews backstage after her touching audition. “Two percent is something, and I wish people knew how great it is.” Meanwhile, Simon still sat in awe in his jury seat and sighed, “God, that really touched me.”
Tuesday’s other most touching, if much light-hearted, moment came right at the top of the show, when Mesquite, Texas’s Beyond Belief Dance Company took the stage, joined by their “fearless, fantastic teacher and director,” Justin Johnson — aka RuPaul’s Drag Race tongue-twisting fan-favorite Alyssa Edwards, the fifth most powerful drag queen in America according to New York magazine.
Alyssa, whose Beyond Belief dance academy was the subject of the RuPaul-produced Netflix series dance queen, was fully decked out, glorious drag for AGT opportunity, already looking for Vegas, as she told the jury, “I am very lucky to have so many moms and dads and families in Mesquite, Texas, who not only support me, but they celebrate me. As a very shy boy, dance was the only way I could find the words to express myself, and that’s what I teach these kids every day. So I’m so incredibly proud of you all, and so incredibly honored to be on stage with [my students].”
But even dressed in head-to-toe in Alyssa eleganza, Johnson couldn’t outdo the frail but powerful Beyond Belief protégés, who paraded admirably, sashayed, murdered, and just around edited during a jazz routine set to Drag race ordinary (and former) american idol contestant) Todrick Hall’s empowering anthem “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels.” Simon called the girls, who ranged in age from 7 to 13, “absolutely sensational”; Sofia Vergara called them “out of this world”; Heidi Klum said they were “perfection”; and Howie raved, “You were… fierce!”
After their amazing performance, one of the girls, who has spina bifida and was born with a tumor on her spine, emotionally revealed that she would use her share of the $1 million AGT prize money, if Beyond Belief wins season 16, to pay her medical bills. But she kindly explained that the support of her mentor and fellow dancers has kept her in a good mood. “There are always days when I’m weaker, but Justin helped me find my motivation. He always keeps me going. No matter how many times the spina bifida tries to knock me down, he always says, ‘Come on girl, you have I this!’ And my teammates, they are my number 1 supporters,’ she said with tears in her eyes as the other students wrapped her in a group hug.
This wasn’t the first TV crossover between RuPaul’s Drag Race and the dance competition circuit. Alyssa’s own drag daughter, Drag race Season 6 contestant Laganja Estranja, ever successful auditioned for So you think you can dance to RuPaul’s hit “Cover Girl”; SYTYCD alumnus-turned-choreographer Travis Wall accompanied a ballet theme Drag race delivery; and both Drag race judge Michelle Visage and all-star Courtney Act have participated in international versions of Dancing with the stars. a 2017 So you think you can dance voguing group number was even set to RuPaul’s “Call Me Mother”. But Alyssa’s remarkable students, who shanted and stayed after getting four yeses from the… AGT judges, maybe have what it takes to make a winnah, baby — or at least make it to the live shows.
Anyway, stories like Beyond Belief’s, and especially Nightbirde’s, have made it happen America’s Got Talent such an endearing and enduring show for 16 seasons.
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