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Why AGT Judge Heidi Klum Will Never Forget Plane Crash Survivor Kechi Okwuchi

The inspiring story of Kechi Okwuchi is like something "out of the movies," said Heidi Klum.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Some performers on America’s Got Talent leave indelible impressions. 

How to Watch

Watch the Season 19 premiere of America’s Got Talent Tuesday, May 28 at 8/7c on NBC and next day on Peacock

For Judge Heidi Klum, one of them is Kechi Okwuchi, a singer from Nigeria whose knockout voice and inspirational story is simply unforgettable. 

She’s definitely someone who I always remember,” Klum told NBC Insider at a recent red carpet event as the AGT Season 18 competition continues live on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC.

Who is Kechi Okwuchi?

Kechi Okwuchi was a 16-year-old student when she was in a plane crash in Nigeria that killed 107 people in 2005. Only she and one other person survived the tragedy.

“When they found me, I was mixed up with debris and completely covered in burns,” she told AGT. “But I had a pulse ... I had more than 100 surgeries.”

A side by side of Heidi Klum and Kechi Okwuchi from America's Got Talent

During her long and painful recovery, music was “an escape,” Okwuchi explained, "and that’s why it means so much to me.”

Okwuchi's story and her resilience is what's made her time on AGT linger with Klum.

When people tell you this kind of stuff, it breaks your heart,” Klum explained to NBC Insider. “They always stay with you.”

How did Kechi Okwuchi do on AGT?

In 2017, Okwuchi captivated the Season 12 AGT Judges and audience with her emotional cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” 

The Judges all sang her praises.

“You’re one of the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life,” said Howie Mandel. “You blew me away.”

Mel B was struck by “how brave” Kechi was.

RELATED: How AGT Judge Heidi Klum Navigates Being the Mother of Four "Cool" Children

“I love you. And I love the energy that you have when you perform your song,” said Klum. “I love your voice. Fantastic job. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.” 

Simon Cowell, meanwhile, told Okwuchi, “What's exciting about you is that there's more to come to you.”

Four "Yes" votes meant advancing to the next round for Okwuchi. She ultimately made it all the way to being a Season 12 finalist.

She wasn't done with the AGT family yet. In 2019, Okwuchi took part in America’s Got Talent: The Champions. She sang Calum Scott’s “You Are the Reason.”

“I’m so excited that I get a chance to see you again and to hear you again,” said Heidi. “You look beautiful. You sounded beautiful. It’s always a joy seeing you on the stage.” 

Cowell let his actions speak louder than words: He gave Okwuchi the Golden Buzzer. She finished the show as a finalist. 

Today, Okwuchi is a burn-survivor advocate for a number of organizations including Shriners Children’s TX- Galveston, Texas, where she was treated. She’s also a recording artist whose self-titled album is streaming now, and the author of the 2022 memoir More Than My Scars.

In May 2023, she graduated with an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas. 

Okwuchi's larger-than-life story is like one “out of the movies,” Klum told NBC Insider.

Watch America’s Got Talent on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC and streaming the next day on Peacock.

------ Original reporting by Grace Jidoun