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Yes, a Famous SNL Star Actually Got Their Start on America's Got Talent
The comedian was praised for her "phenomenal" impressions and "great comedy" — and Howie Mandel even predicted she'd be a "star."
It’s hard to forget Melissa Villaseñor’s hysterical celebrity impressions on Saturday Night Live — or her distinction as the show’s first Latina cast member.
But what fans might not remember about the funny lady is that she first got her start on another NBC hit: America’s Got Talent.
How did Melissa Villaseñor do on America's Got Talent?
At just 23 years old, Villaseñor took the AGT stage in 2011 to prove she had what it takes to make it in the cutthroat comedy world, wowing Judges with her spot-on celebrity impressions of Wanda Sykes, Owen Wilson, Miley Cyrus, and more.
Villaseñor made it all the way to the semi-finals of the competition that year, before she failed to secure the votes from America to send her into the finals.
Still, the experience set the stage for Villaseñor to achieve her comedic dreams. After her run on AGT, she began touring across the country as a stand-up comedian, even opening for Bill Burr, she once told the Daily Dot, before landing her gig on Saturday Night Live in 2016.
Villaseñor told the outlet that she initially “didn’t want to do” America’s Got Talent because it was “scary."
While she freely admitted she “didn’t go in with the best sort of attitude,” she also believed her hesitancy may have helped settle her nerves and allow her to really perform.
“I didn’t psych myself out or anything. It turned out to be a really great thing—a life changing moment,” she said.
Villaseñor first took the AGT stage during her audition in Seattle. She told Judges at the time that she was working in retail, but was “not really” happy about it.
“And what do you want to do for a living?” Judge Sharon Osborne asked.
“Comedy. I want to be a comedian, an impressionist,” she replied.
Villaseñor, who wore a white headband with a bow, a white-button down shirt, and a school girl-esque gray skirt, then launched into uncanny impressions of Barbara Walters, Natalie Portman, Miley Cyrus, Kathy Griffin, and Christina Aguilera that had the audience laughing.
“Well Melissa, I don’t think that you will be working in retail much longer,” Osborne quipped after her act.
Judge Howie Mandel, a comedian himself, also commended Villaseñor on her performance.
“You showed us everything,” he said. “You showed us phenomenal, right on voices and impressions. You showed us great comedy and you yourself are adorable to watch and you are a star and we all loved it.”
She took the stage a few more times during the competition doing impressions of Drew Barrymore, Owen Wilson, Osborne herself, Judy Garland, Britney Spears, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, and Shakira. Ultimately, she made it to the semi-finals (the winner that year was jazz singer Landau Murphy Jr.)
“I think I was always a quirky girl, I like being alone. I like talking to myself, performing in front of my cats, making my cats meow. I guess a lot of time alone, this is what happens,” Villaseñor joked in the semi-finals of how she honed her skills over the years.
She expanded on her road to becoming an impressionist to the Daily Dot, telling the publication that she first realized she could do impressions when she was 12 years old and started to impersonate popular singers like Britney Spears.
The impressions were a big hit with her peers at her private all-girls high school in Alhambra, California.
“I did my high school talent show with a few impressions, and that was when I felt it,” she said. “It went so great that I realized, this is what I am supposed to be doing, at 15 years old. It was a powerful feeling — I felt like there were flames in my chest.”
Her time on AGT eventually led to Villaseñor, who is of Mexican heritage, being asked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live for its 47th season in 2016. She became the first Latina to be cast in the show during its long-running history, according to The Washington Post.
For six seasons, Villaseñor was a fixture on the late-night sketch comedy show, bringing her own unique blend of comedy each night. She left the show in 2022.
These days, Villaseñor continues to tour and has an impressive list of acting credits. She played Cat Owner Karen in 2020’s Hubie Halloween and made a recent appearance earlier this year on NBC’s Night Court as Gabby.
She’s also done voice work for Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, Amphibia, Q Force, Jellystone, and The Chicken Squad.