America's Got Talent has been one of the most popular summer television series on air ever since it premiered over a decade ago, but it was with the series' ninth and tenths season that things were changed in a pretty big way. Prior to those years, the series was a standard competition, which welcomed individuals of all talents to try out and see if they have what it takes to make it big in Hollywood, New York City, and Las Vegas alike.
But with the advent of the ninth and tenth seasons onward, the series introduced the concept of the Golden Buzzer: a vote from the judges that would immediately send an auditioning contestant directly to the series' live episodes. Here, we take a look back at the series' most memorable Golden Buzzers, and compare their early success with how far they would ultimately go in the contest.
10 Jon Dorenbos
America's Got Talent is the perfect kind of show for people to reinvent themselves, and reveal talents that no one has ever known they had. Take, for example, onetime NFL star Jon Dorenbos, who auditioned as part of the series' 11th season.
After a serious medical condition forced Dorenbos into early retirement from his lifelong NFL dreams, he returned to an early passion of his - magic - and wowed the judges and America in the process with his amazing sleight of hand work. After receiving the Golden Buzzer from guest judge Ne-Yo, Dorenbos made it all the way to the finale episode of the season, coming in third place.
9 Angelica Hale
Unlike other reality series like American Idol, America's Got Talent has no age minimum restrictions, and as a result, truly amazing talents can be found within the youngest of contestants. In season 12, nine year old vocal powerhouse Angelica Hale received the Golden Buzzer from guest judge Chris Hardwick.
Based on her adorable demeanor and tiny size, you wouldn't expect the kind of mindblowing vocals that she's able to perform to come out of her. But week after week, Angelica showed that she was one of the best vocalists the series had ever had, eventually coming in second place in the season's finale.
8 The CraigLewis Band
Also unlike American Idol, America's Got Talent allows for the opportunity for amazing musical groups and duos to get the recognition they deserve and don't receive on other singing based competitions. One of the gems to be unearthed in AGT's audition process as a result of this fact was the season 10 competitor, The CraigLewis Band.
The soulful musical duo were immediately recognized for their talents by guest judge Michael Buble, who gave them his Golden Buzzer. The duo made it all the way through the competition, arriving in the tenth season's finale and coming in a respectable fifth place at the end.
7 Sal Valentinetti
America's Got Talent might not be a singing only competition, but the series manages to find some of the best musical talents out there that might not fit in the world of other singing competitions, which are usually more forward minded and pop focused. Someone that could have been lost in the shuffle of these other series was the season 11 contestant, Sal Valentinetti.
A proud Italian crooner, Sal received regular judge Heidi Klum's Golden Buzzer during the eleventh season, swooning and crooning and winning hearts everywhere. His larger than life family also added considerable appeal to his arc on the series, and he made it all the way to the finale, coming in fifth place.
6 Drew Lynch
AGT is also a series that allows people of all abilities a platform to make their talents known and let their gifts shine. Take, for example, tenth season contestant Drew Lynch. Drew was an adorable, self-deprecating stand up comedian who was finally given the platform his talents deserved. Drew also happened to have a considerable stutter, as a result of an accident he suffered as a teenager.
But from day one, Drew's comedic talents were immediately apparent, leading regular judge Howie Mandel to award him his Golden Buzzer for the tenth season. Drew would make it all the way to the tenth season's finale, coming in second place during the competition.
5 Paul Zerdin
Stand u comedy isn't the only form of comedy that America's Got Talent recognizes, however. Paul Zerdin was a truly unique act that blended multiple forms of performance, including ventriloquism, stand up comedy, musical performances, and more.
With a cast of adorable and lively puppet characters, Paul Zerdin wowed audiences from his very first appearance on the series' tenth season, prompting guest judge Marlon Wayans to give him his Golden Buzzer. In the end, Zerdin would go on to win the series' tenth season, just barely edging out the previously discussed comedian Drew Lynch.
4 Piff the Magic Dragon
As it turns out, season ten was really a wonderful time for comedic talents of all measures. But there's really been no act in the history of America's Got Talent on the whole that could be compared in any way to the amazing bit of absurdist humor that is Piff the Magic Dragon.
Ostensibly, Piff the Magic Dragon is a magician. Magic is right in his name, after all. But Piff's particular brand of dry, sardonic humor, in addition to his hilarious dragon costume and his adorable puppy sidekick Mr. Piffles, all worked together to make him one of the most unique acts in the series' history. This all earned him guest judge and magic aficionado Neil Patrick Harris's Golden Buzzer, and Piff would eventually go on to finish the season just shy of the top five.
3 Kseniya Simonova
One of the most memorable and most uniquely talented Golden Buzzer recipients in America's Got Talent history never won the series, but she did in fact win the foreign version of the series, Ukraine's Got Talent. Kseniya Simonova was a truly gifted artist, whose medium was sand and whose emotional message was always unfalteringly full of love and hope.
She participated in the limited series event, America's Got Talent: The Champions, and received the Golden Buzzer from the series' host Terry Crews. Kseniya would go on to the finale of the series, finishing the event in third place.
2 Kodi Lee
As we've already discussed, America's Got Talent has been a franchise accepting of all individuals of all walks of life, including members of the disability community. In the current 14th season, Kodi Lee has been captivating viewers all over the world, and bringing the tears in the process. An incredibly gifted singer and pianist, Kodi is also both autistic and blind.
During his audition, he performed a breathtaking rendition of Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You," which moved the judges to tears and caused new judge Gabrielle Union to give Kodi her Golden Buzzer. With the 14th season still underway, only time will tell how far Kodi will make it, but we can only hope that his star will continue to rise.
Kechi was a contestant on AGT twice, and both times she appeared, her story was as heartbreaking as it was inspiring. As one of the lone survivors of a devastating plane crash that killed her classmates, Kechi suffered immense burns and underwent multiple surgeries to repair the damage caused. But she remained undeterred by the suffering she went through, and instead remained committed to pursue her true passion: music.
When she returned to the series for America's Got Talent: The Champions, Kechi received the Golden Buzzer from judge Simon Cowell, but she would once again fall short of reaching the championship, despite her immense and deeply moving talent.