‘America’s Got Talent’ Winner Brandon Leake on Returning to the Stage

'America's Got Talent' Season 15 Winner Brandon Leake
Q&A
Chris Haston/NBC

America’s Got Talent Season 15 winner Brandon Leake is returning to the stage on the NBC competition show on Wednesday, August 11.

The spoken word poet’s performance will be “powerful,” he says, just as his ones as a contestant when he triumphed in the contest last year. It comes as part of the results show as live shows kick off this week at the Dolby Theatre. (The 36 acts will compete on Tuesdays each week.)

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Plus, he opens up about working with a limited audience following COVID-19 shutdowns.

Ahead of his return to the AGT stage, TV Insider caught up with Leake for a tease of what to expect and had him look back at his winning season.

What can you share about what you have planned for your performance?

Brandon Leake: It’ll be something which is a deviation from what I normally do with spoken word, but it’ll be highly representative of spoken word as a culture and my city of Stockton. [It’ll be] paying homage to those two very key parts of who I am.

Will anything remind viewers of your performances from Season 15?

There’s always going to be Brandon. There’s always going to be parts of that there. I don’t want to reveal too many secrets about it, but there’s still gonna be that lovely little personal appeal that I put in all of my work.

'America's Got Talent' Winner Brandon Leake

Chris Haston/NBC

What are you most looking forward to about returning to AGT?

I’m looking forward to doing it with an audience. There’s something really beautiful as an artist when you get the chance to look in the eyes of somebody while you’re doing your art form, and I didn’t get that during my season. So now I get the chance to pull on heartstrings while staring you eye to eye and really leaning into these poems.

You’re not going to be alone. Talk about bringing these young poets along with you and how that came about?

I’m not going to mention names, but there was potential for me and another poet to have collaborated, to do a poem together for the show, but then scheduling-wise, it just didn’t end up working. So, when I was talking with the lovely producers at AGT, they’re like, “Alright, cool. We’re looking forward to getting you up there.” And I said, “Hey, do you mind if I open up an opportunity for some young poets to be able to come share the stage with me?” And they were like, “Yeah, sure.” When you get the chance to carry the flag of an art form for a little bit, you don’t just look at what you have for yourself, but you look at what you can build for others. And for myself, I wanted to build an opportunity for other poets, in particular our young folks, to be able to not only be seen and heard but to get a chance to do it on America’s largest stage.

 

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This is taking it to a whole new level. It’s one thing to introduce spoken word to AGT, but another to bring the next generation to the stage like you are.

Yeah. In a weird way, winning America’s Got Talent, I became some people’s favorite artist and that’s kind of the case for a couple of these young poets who are coming and now I get the chance to be what I wish my favorite artist to me was. I get the chance to share a stage with these young folks and not only give them wisdom in game, but give them the opportunity to share their God-given talents as well.

When you look back on your Season 15 performances now, which one stands out to you the most?

They kind of all do, but I’d say probably the one that stands out most would be “Pookie” because it was the one that I didn’t think America would fall in love with, but they did.

That was so powerful.

And it was a very timely poem considering all that was going on in the world at the time and still going on. It was a risk, but high risk, high reward, you know?

And looking back at your time on AGT now almost a year later, what stands out to you about the entire experience?

Honestly, it was the people, my fellow competitors. Outside of winning, that was the best part of it, having the community with people like Shaquira McGrath, Celina Graves, the Double Dragon twins, Brett Loudermilk, Austin and Joey with Broken Roots. We went through this very intimate time together where we were locked in hotel rooms, quarantined together, so we had to get to know each other and those are some people who I’ll forever keep in touch with…

It’s kind of like college — if you throw everybody into a dorm room, you’re going to have some people who have conflict and you’re going to have some people who naturally gravitate to each other. And the beautiful part is we kind of all naturally gravitated to each other. It was a really beautiful thing. Kenadi Dodds is one of the sweetest young people I’ve ever met in my life. Daneliya Tuleshova was so chill and laid back and just so interested in so much of our American culture. It was so fun. Cristina Rae and her son, getting to see him just walk around and look at all the big lights and get caught up in it all, it was just such a beautiful thing.

[There were] moments that I’ll never forget. So of course, I loved the moments that we got to share together in terms of the artistry, but kicking back in the room and playing Mario Kart Wii in the room or watching a movie together, sneaking out and going to get In-N-Out — I’m not on the show anymore, so they can’t do anything about that — those types of things are the big relationship builders.

 

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As a winner, what’s your advice to this season’s acts?

Well, first and foremost I want to give my thoughts and most certainly and most importantly, my prayers, to Nightbirde, who’s no longer able to compete due to their health condition. Nightbirde, I am praying for you, I hope the healing comes. I know that that’s a tough scenario to be that close to your dream and have to bow out simply due to health conditions.

Secondly, to all of the competitors, it will be the same advice I gave everybody: Be yourself. The greatest resource I had in terms of winning America’s Got Talent was that the world bought into who I was as a person, not just the art form that I did. It feels so much more rewarding when you get accepted and you win because of yourself versus trying to be portrayed to be somebody else. It’s a far more fruitful experience.

What else do you have coming up?

I just got done filming a movie that I wrote entitled Complexity. We’re now in the editing room. That will be coming to film festivals next year. We were hoping to try to do it this year, but instead of rushing a product, we’d rather take our time with it and make it the best thing that it possibly could be. There’s the Vegas residency that we’re working out the details on and looking forward to, if everything works out, being able to go put on one heck of a Vegas show. I have a couple of other things in the works, some more spoken word that might be hitting a streaming platform near you. And my debut book, that’ll be coming out in January, and it’s going to be beautiful. It’s entitled Unraveling.

America’s Got Talent, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8/7c, NBC