Updated at 10 p.m.
“America’s Got Talent” named its Season 14 winner Wednesday night based on votes from last night’s performance show — and two of the 10 finalists were Raleigh natives.
At about 90 minutes into the 2-hour finale, Sgt. Maj. Christal Sanders Rheams with the group Voices of Service advanced to the Top 5 finalists group, but 11-year-old violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa was eliminated. (Judge Simon Cowell could be seen mouthing “Wow” when this was announced).
Not long after the Top 5 acts were named, Voices of Service, a group that travels to hospitals to sing and bring comfort to veterans with PTSD, was eliminated.
Rheams said being on the show has meant everything to the group, and she thanked the audience for their support.
Judge Howie Mandel told the group: “I want to say, Voices of Service, you won. You won our hearts, you won the honor and minds of everybody that serves this country, of the audience. We love you, we need you and thank you so much for gracing our stage. And I’m telling you, this is just the beginning for you.”
The winner of the competition was Kodi Lee, a 22-year-old singer and pianist who is blind and has autism. Lee was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and diagnosed with autism at age 4.
Read more below about the incredible talents who made Raleigh proud this summer: Tyler Butler-Figueroa and Christal Sanders Rheams. You can also watch videos of their performances from last night.
Tyler has come a long way from busking on the streets of downtown Raleigh to performing in front of millions of people on television — and even getting a Destiny’s Child song (“Survivor”) for Tuesday night’s show personally cleared by Beyonce´. (After Tyler learned this he asked, “Does Beyonce´ know who I am now?”)
Tyler has told his story many times on “AGT” this season: he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was four-and-a-half-years-old and underwent three years of chemotherapy. He took up the violin because he was being bullied and teased in school, and this summer, Tyler celebrated four years being cancer-free.
Tyler auditioned in the June 11 episode of “America’s Got Talent” and got a Golden Buzzer pass from judge Simon Cowell, which sent him straight to the live shows. That meant Tyler had about two months off from the show, and he spent that time in Raleigh playing the violin at a number of events, even performing for young patients at the UNC Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, where he received his own cancer treatment.
On that first June 11 episode, Tyler played Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”
For his first live episode on Aug. 20, Tyler performed “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia featuring John Martin.
In the semifinals episode on Sept. 3, Tyler performed Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” after an intro from his little brother, Adam.
Tyler is a student at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, and was accompanied at the show this season by his mom, Kisua Butler-Figueroa, and his brother, Adam.
Christal Sanders Rheams with Voices of Service
Sgt. Major Christal Sanders Rheams is an active duty member of the U.S. Army who graduated from Enloe High School in Raleigh and attended UNC-Chapel Hill.
She sings with the military quartet Voices of Service, made up of Rheams, Master Sergeant Caleb Green, retired Staff Sergeant Ron Henry and Sergeant First Class Jason L. Hannah. The group, based in Northern Virginia, travels around to hospitals to perform for veterans and anyone needing support.
In Tuesday night’s final performance episode, the group gave a goosebump-inducing rendition of the Leona Lewis song “Footprints in the Sand.”
The group first appeared on the Aug. 6 show, performing the Wiz Khalifa with Charlie Puth song “See You Again.” Rheams said the song was dedicated to “our brothers and sisters whose voices have been silenced, who could not find peace on this side.”
During that episode, Rheams also said: “Personally, we all have suffered our share of traumatic experiences. You can’t do it alone, and music can help all of us heal. We’re here to spread that message to everybody.”
The group appeared again on the Aug. 13 show, singing “Fire” by Gavin DeGraw.
For the Sept. 10 semifinal show, they sang “Choke” by OneRepublic.
Rheams has been a member of the US Army Band since 1998. According to her US Army Band bio, she currently attends the University of Maryland.
Her mother, Arlene Sanders, still lives in Raleigh.