Exclusive interview with America’s Got Talent’s Brandon Leake on performing a powerful Black Lives Matter poem

America's Got Talent - Season 15
Brandon Leake of America’s Got Talent Season 15. Pic credit: NBC/Trae Patton

America’s Got Talent’s spoken word contestant and judge Howie Mandel’s Golden Buzzer recipient Brandon Leake gave the most memorable performance of the night on Tuesday – the final night of the Live Shows for Season 15.

Brandon chose to perform a narrative reflecting Black Lives Matter, honoring the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake, while, at the same time, making it personal. The Stockton, California-born poet and teacher spoke of how his mother’s greatest fear was that when he left the house, he wouldn’t return home alive.

Brandon Leake on his mother’s greatest fear

In part, he said, “My mother’s greatest fear is that I won’t return home breathing, blood pulsing through these veins enough to still be her Pookie [her nickname for him]. My mom warned me, ‘Son, don’t you dare get caught at the wrong place at the wrong time with that wrong colored skin … I need you to return home my Pookie, to be your mom.’”

“That was very, very, very, very powerful,” judge Heidi Klum told him. “You are my favorite act of the night.”

She was followed by Howie, who said, “This is above and beyond anything I have seen or heard. You took an older white guy and put him into the body of an African American mother just hoping that he survives life.

This is the conversation that America needs to have and there is no better, no more entertaining, no more woke, more educational way. I am so proud I pushed my Golden Buzzer. In my heart, you just won the whole night.”

Brandon on humanizing Black Lives Matter

Monsters & Critics had the chance to speak exclusively to Brandon — he won the Golden Buzzer with a poem about the death of his sister — the morning after his performance to find out how he made the decision to speak this particular poem on the AGT stage.

“I have plenty of poems on that subject matter, but I thought about what would resonate in the hearts of those who [watch],” he said. “My goal as an artist isn’t to win over those who already believe what I believe, but to give an appeal to those who might have a differing opinion.”

Wanting to humanize the scenario, Brandon felt the conversation between him and his mother was the best way to do that.

“Picking that became much easier,” he said. “Just knowing that instead of it being a fact-based poem, it was a relational piece.”

Brandon aspires to travel the world with the spoken word

Brandon is the first-ever spoken word contestant on America’s Got Talent, and with his Tuesday night performance so overwhelmingly received, he won’t be the last. He said he chose to audition because he believes the spoken word can be on the main stage. To him, the possibility of a Las Vegas show exits. But it is only one of his big dreams.

“I have a one-man act that mixes me with animation that my friend and I crafted and prepared,” he explained. “I am for sure going to go on tour around the world. I would like to travel around and sell out some shows and share my art. I do want to act, but I also want to write movies and television shows. I want to direct movies and television shows, and be able to give life to some of the stories that can’t be fit into three minutes.”

There is little doubt that Brandon will make the semi-finals. The five acts going through will be announced tonight, and when he does, he has a lot of material to pick from with 80 of his own poems already stored in his brain. But for the semi-finals, he has written two new pieces.

“Either one of them will do,” Brandon said. “At a time like this, what I hope to do is give hope to the world, so this next piece will be a piece of hope. I’ve got to figure out which one I want to do and memorize it and then go to work on what I want to do production wise.”

America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC.

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