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A List of All The Times Simon Cowell Pressed the Golden Buzzer On America's Got Talent
The hard-to-please Judge notoriously hits his Golden Buzzer for singers, but a few exceptions have caught his eye over the seasons.
Simon Cowell may be the creator of America’s Got Talent, but those to whom he’s awarded his Golden Buzzer have yet to win a season of the competition show. The upcoming Season 18, premiering May 30 at 8/7c on NBC, is his next chance to hit his Golden Buzzer, and perhaps pave the way for an AGT champ.
First Introduced in Season 10, each Judge and the Host has the opportunity to hit the Golden Buzzer once in a season and send a contestant on directly to the Live Shows. Typically, an Act would need to get a "Yes" from three Judges before they can move forward in the competition, making the Golden Buzzer a special achievement — though there's also the Group Golden Buzzer, which is an extra special achievement.
Here’s a look at all of Cowell’s Golden Buzzers through the seasons.
Season 11: Calysta Bevier
Calysta Bevier, a 16-year-old ovarian cancer survivor, fittingly performed Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” in the Season 11 auditions, as Cowell joined the show for the first time as a judge (he’s also executive producer of AGT). She made it all the way to the semi-finals and returned for America’s Got Talent: All-Stars in the winter of 2023, performing an original song called “Head Held High.”
During All-Stars, Cowell said of his first Golden Buzzer winner, "I wish I could have showed you this film when we first met and then what's gonna happen to you in a few years time. You're gonna come back on an All-Stars, and you're gonna be healthy and you're gonna be brilliant. And you're gonna be a great songwriter. All of those things."
In the time since she first auditioned in 2016, Bevier has released ten singles and racked up more than 2.5 million streams of her songs on Spotify.
Season 12: Mandy Harvey
Deaf singer Mandy Harvey stunned Cowell with her audition during Season 12 in 2017, causing him to hit his Golden Buzzer. She performed an original song called “Try.”
Harvey has a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that caused her to lose her hearing by the age of 18.
After her audition, Cowell joined Harvey on stage and said, “That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and heard,” according to E! Online. She got to fourth place before she was eliminated.
Since the show, she’s built a music career, touring year-round at venues and releasing an album.
Season 13: Michael Ketterer
Pediatric mental health nurse Michael Ketterer not only earned Cowell’s Golden Buzzer during Season 13 — he also brought the famously critical judge to tears.
Ketterer is the father of six children — one biological daughter — and five adopted sons, and said he auditioned to be an example to his children who came out of foster care that they can live their dreams, according to Parade. During the Live Shows, Ketterer’s performance of James Bay’s “Us” caused Cowell to cry, and he said, “As a dad, the fact that you are on this show, you are a really special guy.”
Ketterer also sang a song written for him by country singer Garth Brooks during the Season 13 finale. Ketterer ended up in fifth place in the competition.
AGT: The Champions: Kechi
Cowell awarded his Golden Buzzer in AGT: The Champions to returning contestant Kechi, who first took the stage in season 12. At the age of 16, the singer was one of only two survivors of the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 plane crash that killed 107 people, leaving her with third-degree burns over most of her body, according to ET Online.
She sang “You Are The Reason” by Calum Scott, prompting Cowell to push the Golden Buzzer. He added, “I always wanted to do that for you, you so deserve it.” He also called her a “champion.”
Besides singing, Kechi is also a motivational speaker, and wrote a memoir called, More Than My Scars, according to Houston news station KHOU.
Season 14: Tyler Butler-Figueroa
An 11-year-old violinist won Cowell’s Golden Buzzer in Season 14 and made it all the way to the finals.
Tyler Butler-Figueroa played a rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” for his audition, according to Good Housekeeping. He also performed Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” with a gathering of his fellow cancer survivors in the semi-finals. On the show, he shared how he was bullied after he was diagnosed with leukemia at age four, causing his hair to fall out during chemotherapy treatments, according to Billboard.
Season 15: WAFFLE Dance Crew
Cowell decided to hit his Golden Buzzer for the street dance troupe Waffle Dance Crew in Season 15. According to Parade, Cowell is usually skeptical of dance acts on America’s Got Talent, but he told the group, “Something about your energy from the second you came on — and your determination — is everything” and added it was his “favorite audition so far.”
The WAFFLE Dance Crew is made up of dancers from the Bronx, who have often faced gun violence. One of their team members and friends was recently shot and killed before they performed, according to Parade. They were eventually eliminated in the Semi-Finals.
Season 16: Jane "Nightbirde" Marczewski
The original song she sang during her Golden Buzzer winning performance, “It’s OK,” has over 54 million views on YouTube. Her performance moved Cowell to tears, as he called her voice “stunning.”
Marczewski revealed in her audition video she had a two percent chance of survival, but added, “It’s important that everyone knows I’m so much more than the bad things that’ve happened to me.”
She was unable to move on to the finals because of her health.
Cowell spoke about her emotional audition shortly after her passing, describing her as a "special" person. He noted that it was particularly "difficult" to watch her audition in light of her death.
"She typifies, I think, what the Golden Buzzer is all about," Cowell said to Host Terry Crews. "She knew how sick she was and she couldn't make the Finals, but I think watching it back, it makes you feel hopeful. Her Golden Buzzer will live on forever. No one else, in my opinion, could be number one."
Season 17: Sara James
In an inspiring moment, 13-year-old Sara James won over Cowell during Season 17 with her rendition of “Lovely” by Billie Eilish, and got his Golden Buzzer. She traveled all the way across the world from Poland to get on the AGT stage, and became a finalist, placing sixth in the competition.
Her performance of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” (which is now available to stream) earned her a standing ovation from Cowell and the other judges, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Sofia Vergara. Klum described her as one of AGT’s “greatest discoveries.”
Since completing Season 17 as a Finalist, Sara James has found even more success. In May 2023, she revealed that she's singing as Ariel in the Polish dubbed version of The Little Mermaid.
America’s Got Talent: All Stars: Mike E. Winfield
Cowell deviated from his usual pull towards singers to give his Golden Buzzer to stand-up comedian Mike E. Winfield in winter 2023’s America’s Got Talent: All-Stars. The moment made history as it was the first time Cowell used his Golden Buzzer on a comic.
Winfield, who Mandel called a “comic superstar” was eliminated in the Top 10 of Season 17, but returned to compete in All-Stars. On his second try, he became only the second-ever comedian in AGT history to get the coveted Golden Buzzer. Winfield’s All-Stars audition was about how AGT changed his life and his family’s life, and Cowell called him “more confident” the second time around.
He made it to finale but did not win the season.
Season 18: Putri Ariani
17-year-old Putri Ariani absolutely blew Cowell away — in fact, he asked her to perform twice.
The Indonesian teen, who is blind, explained her motivation to the Judges before launching into her first song.
“My biggest challenge is people look at me just as a blind person, not that I’m a musician, but when I’m singing, I feel like a silver star,” she said before taking the stage.
She then began to perform an original song she'd written herself on the piano.
After she finished, Cowell made his way to the stage to introduce himself, tell her she had an amazing voice, and ask for another song.
Ariani happily agreed and performed Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” sending all four Judges to their feet for a standing ovation. Cowell was thrilled to hit the Golden Buzzer for her.
“You are, I think, one of the best singers we’ve ever had on our show,” he said.
To see who will get Simon Cowell’s next Golden Buzzer, watch America’s Got Talent Season 18 Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC and the next day on Peacock.