Detroit Youth Choir vies for $1 million in 'America's Got Talent' finals

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the names of Detroit Youth Choir performer Imari Carl and parent Kyana Smith.

Performing on the "America's Got Talent" stage for the last time this season, the Detroit Youth Choir declared their appearance Tuesday as their "moment" before the nation decides the group's fate. 

The 52-member choir capped off a dazzling run on the NBC competition with a show-stopping performance during the finals of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Can't Hold Us," the same song they performed during their first appearance on the show. 

The choir dedicated its performance to Detroit, choir director Anthony White and "ourselves." Scenes of the Detroit skyline played on big screens behind the choir while they sang, rapped and danced.

"You represented all the excellence that is in so many people that are overlooked," said judge Gabrielle Union after their performance. "You guys shine so bright on that stage."

"There really is no ceiling for you guys," judge Julianne Hough gushed. "That was unbelievable."

The choir performed in what judge Simon Cowell called "the best final" the show has had in its 14 seasons, facing nine other acts. Other competitors included an air-defying youth dance group from India, V. Unbeatable; a group of synchronized dancers from Ukraine called Light Balance Kids; and comedian Ryan Niemiller.

Fans of the Detroit Youth Choir cheer Tuesday as the Detroit Youth Choir performs in the "America's Got Talent" Finals.

Closer to home, more than 100 people gathered at Detroit's Northwest Activity Center to watch the choir perform and cheer them on, wearing black shirts that said “#teamdyc” or purple shirts with “DYC” on them.

Kyana Smith was there, cheering on her son, Ryan Bowens, 15. He's been in the Detroit Youth Choir for four years.

"He was so excited when I told him the city of Detroit was painted purple today and we saw the Spirit of Detroit with the DYC shirt on it," said Smith. "... He just said ‘They (Detroit) really love us.’”

Watching his daughter Imari Carl perform, James Carl could see the emotion on her face as the teen cried at the end. He called it the best performance of the night.

Pictured: Terry Crews, Detroit Youth Choir

"She was very emotional," said Carl. "Most of the kids were emotional... It's a once in a lifetime experience."

Voting to pick a winner runs until 7 a.m. Wednesday. The top vote getter receives $1 million and a brief Las Vegas residency.

A choir has never won "America's Got Talent," but White, the choir's director, said he believes his talented group can change that.

"We have a lot of fight in us, we have a lot of grit," said White, speaking by phone Tuesday morning from Los Angeles before the performance. "We have a lot of determination. Our kids are fearless and they’re ready to compete."

The city of Detroit dressed up the Spirit of Detroit statue in a purple shirt and bowtie Tuesday morning in honor of the Detroit Youth Choir, who are finalists on America's Got Talent and will perform tonight.

The Detroit Youth Choir has wowed judges and voters alike during its "America's Got Talent" run, which started early this summer. After earning a golden buzzer from host Terry Crews, a Flint native, in its first performance of "Can't Hold Us" in June — a video of the performance has already garnered 10 million YouTube views — the group made it through the semi-finals with Panic! At the Disco's "High Hopes."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday FaceTimed the choir and wore purple in the group's honor. "We're all rooting for these talented kids and I'm so proud of all their hard work," said Whitmer on Twitter.

The choir performed in what judge Simon Cowell called "the best final" the show has had in its 14 seasons.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell urged people to use all 10 of their votes for the choir and said she's been cheering on the choir "from the beginning."

White believes the reason America and the judges have connected with the group so much is because people can relate to his kids.

"Our kids are your average Detroit young person," said White. "They relate to every young person in America and the world. They wake up, they put their pants on one leg a at a time. There are no egos, all of our kids are good kids. We just want to represent to the country how good these young people are."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan with Detroit Youth Choir Director Anthony White and some choir members earlier this summer.

If the Detroit Youth Choir wins, White says every choir member who performed will receive a portion of the $1 million winnings, along with the organization itself. White's dream is to get his choir its own building.

White has a vision for that, too.

"My dream is to have a building with our logo on the front," said White.