Sofía Vergara understands this pain.
On Tuesday, America's Got Talent contestant and 27-year-old Calif. native Brandon Leake made history when he took the stage as the show's first-ever spoken word artist. The new dad moved the judges as he performed a very personal poem about his late sister, in which he shared that she had died in 1997. Before he began, Leake explained to the judges—Howie Mandel, Simon Cowell and Vergara—that the performance was an "ode to my sister."
"She's here with me now," he told them.
Mandel asked, "Oh, she's backstage?"
"Kind of," Leake responded.
As he finished, the judges applauded him and were visibly stunned by what they had witnessed. Mandel noticed that Vergara was tearing up, to which she explained that her brother had died the same year as Leake's sister. Her older brother Rafael was killed in their native Colombia.
"I can feel your pain. I know what this is," she told Leake. "I know what it is to have somebody taken from you without you knowing. But, it was very beautiful for me."
Leake clearly made an impact on Mandel, who hit the Golden Buzzer, sending him straight to the live shows.
Amid the joyful moment, there were also visible signs of the coronavirus pandemic in the fist bumps and elbow claps the judges, Leake and host Terry Crews gave each other throughout the audition—an obvious effort to avoid the closer physical contact of traditional handshakes. Judge Heidi Klum was also visibly missing from the panel as she was sick in March and later tested negative for coronavirus.
While the 15th season officially debuted in May with pre-filmed audition episodes, filming has resumed in the midst of the ongoing pandemic in new ways to accommodate these challenging times, including shooting on an outdoor movie stage designed like a drive-in movie theater for the Judge Cuts, according to a new Deadline report.
As for the judges, they arrive in separate cars and then sit in distant chairs, per the report. Behind the scenes, producers created a "pod system," Deadline described, with each area of production assigned to a zone and then having social distancing within each zone. Each area communicated with other zones by phone or walkie talkie, according to the report.
As Cowell told Deadline, "If we thought anyone was at risk, we wouldn't film. So as long as you know that people are safe, fortunately everyone who was on the lot was tested, will be tested and are continually tested. Once you know you've got that part and it works then the second part is putting on the show. You learn very, very quickly to adapt and the show will feel different but hopefully people will still enjoy watching a new version of the show with the principals of the show still intact."
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)