SALT LAKE CITY — The moment Utah native Kodi Lee walked onto the “America’s Got Talent” stage in May, the 22-year-old captured the nation’s attention.
On Wednesday, he beat the Detroit Youth Choir to win the show’s 14th season and $1 million.
When he appeared for his first audition in front of the judges, his mother, Tina Lee, explained that he is both blind and has autism. It’s sometimes difficult for him to carry a conversation, but he was born to be an entertainer, she said.
As Lee sat down at the piano waiting for him, she whispered a brief message of encouragement and he began to play. But when he opened his mouth and sang, it was the judges’ mouths that dropped.
By the end of Lee’s first performance, all four judges and the audience were on their feet applauding, many wiping away tears.
“I don’t know what it’s like to live in Kodi’s world. All I can tell is you obviously have an amazing relationship, the two of you,” judge Simon Cowell told Kodi and Tina after the performance. “Your voice is absolutely fantastic. You have a really beautiful tone, and thank you so much for trusting us on this show.”
In fact, the performance was so good that Gabrielle Union, another of the show’s judges, pressed the Golden Buzzer, automatically sending Lee through to the Hollywood rounds.
Five months later, America voted Lee the winner of the competition after an emotional duet by the Utah native and singer-songwriter Leona Lewis.
“I feel so amazing. Unbelievable,” Lee told host Terry Crews following the announcement.
Though Lee has now drawn the eyes of the country, he caught Utah’s attention years before in 2008. KSL TV reporter Ed Yeates reported on the self-taught 11-year-old who blew people away with his musical talent in Tooele where he grew up, though he now lives in California.
"The minute you put him on stage, it's like he turns a hat and he's a professional,” Lee’s mother told Yeates at the time.
And it looks like the opportunity to perform won’t be scarce for Lee now. His win means he’ll headline the “America’s Got Talent Live” show at the Paris Theater at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in November.