Tyler Butler-Figueroa, from Raleigh, North Carolina wowed the audience and judges with a version of Kelly Clarkson’s 2012 hit song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” earning himself a standing ovation and a teary response from judge Gabrielle Union.
“Wow wow wow,” Cowell said on June 11 following his stunning performance.
— Gold Derby (@GoldDerby) 13 June 2019
On stage, Butler-Figueroa revealed he picked up the hobby when he was seven-and-a-half-years-old, because he was being picked on at school.
When asked by judge Julianne Hough why he was being bullied, the boy gave a heartbreaking response which moved the audience.
“It’s because I had cancer. I almost died,” Butler-Figueroa responded.
I can’t breathe. I’m crying so hard. Tyler, I hope we get the chance to perform together one day! I started playing violin when I was a kid too! It’s the first instrument that introduced me to being a part of music and not just listening. #loveyou 😊❤️ https://t.co/J1Kx8GWJcp
— Kelly Clarkson (@kellyclarkson) 12 June 2019
His mother explained backstage that Butler-Figueroa was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just four-and-a-half-years-old, and described the emotions she felt the day she found out.
“One day we were out to dinner, and we said, ‘Something doesn’t look right with Tyler.’ He turned kind of pale,” she said.
Her son was quickly rushed to hospital, where blood tests showed he had cancer.
“It was the worst day of my life,” his mother said.
The 11-year-old told judges he was bullied by classmates when his hair began to fall out as he started his chemotherapy treatments.
At times, the boy said he didn’t even want to attend class.
“When I lost my hair, I was really sad and embarrassed at the same time to go to school.
“They used to make fun of me and laugh at me because I was different,” he explained.
He explained how children at his school would tell each other to stay away from him, spreading rumors that he was contagious.
But his outlook on life changed when he started his violin classes, his mother said.
“Once he started that class, it was like a sunshine,” his mother explained. “He was full of energy, happy. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I got my son back!” she said.
Butler-Figueroa told the judges playing the instrument helps him to maintain a positive mindset.
“When I play the violin, it helps me forget about all the bad stuff,” he said. “I just didn’t want to be the kid with cancer, so now I’m the kid who plays the violin.”
The boy stunned the judges with the solo on his violin, which featured a depiction of an orange ribbon—a symbol used to raise awareness about leukemia.
Cowell praised his performance, reminding the 11-year-old that bullies usually pick on others out of jealousy.
“Most people are bullied because they’re better than the people who bully them,” he said.
“I think you have such an amazing talent, such a personality, and I would like to say something, on your behalf, to the bullies,” Cowell said, before reaching over to push his golden buzzer.
Butler-Figueroa’s mother jumped out of excitement and her son ran to her side backstage to hug her before making their way to the golden confetti-filled stage with Cowell.
“You’re a winner right?” Cowell asked Tyler, who has been in remission for four years. “Can I shake your hand? Enjoy every moment of this.”
“I was confident that I would get a yes to go to the next level, but I never thought I would get the golden buzzer. Simon was telling me to not let bullies stop me from what I’m doing in life,” the boy said in a video posted by “America’s Got Talent” after his performance.
“When the gold was falling, it just felt like it was in slow motion,” he added. “It just feels like a dream come true.”