"America's Got Talent showed me there is life after burns," Kechi Okwuchi said

By Karen Mizoguchi
January 28, 2019 10:00 PM
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Not only is she a survivor and an inspiration to many, but Kechi Okwuchi is also a well-deserved Golden Buzzer winner on America’s Got Talent: The Champions.

The 28-year-old singer from Houston, Texas, was a finalist on 2017’s season 12. And on Monday night’s episode of Champions, she wowed audiences with her powerful rendition of Calum Scott’s “You Are The Reason” as judge Simon Cowell gave her the coveted button to advance her to the finals.

“Her story really resonated. I always thought she summed up the idea of the show,” Cowell tells PEOPLE exclusively of Okwuchi. “If you’re going to give anyone a second chance, give it to her.”

Okwuchi was one of two survivors on board a Nigerian flight — traveling between Abuja and Port Harcourt — that crash-landed at Port Harcourt International Airport in 2005. The plane crash claimed the lives of 107 passengers. Okwuchi had over 100 surgeries due to injuries and burns.

America's Got Talent: The Champions - Season 1
Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Describing the moments before pushing the Golden Buzzer, Cowell explains his decision was “instinctive” thanks to the energy in the theater.

“You just feel it in the room. When you tape it live like the way we do, you feel it from the audience. You don’t have to think when or what, it was just an instinctive thing,” he says.

“It was a special moment for her and I think she really defines what a champion is,” he adds. “Seeing the difference the way the show has changed for her. It was astonishing to see how her confidence has grown and she’s just an amazing person.”

America's Got Talent: The Champions - Season 1
Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

After receiving Cowell’s Golden Buzzer, Okwuchi broke down in tears as she looked across the room to find her mother was also overcome with emotions.

“My one regret was I wasn’t able to give her the Golden Buzzer. You want to know what a champion is? This is a champion,” Cowell said to Okwuchi, who has become a Shriner’s Hospital advocate for burn victims.

America's Got Talent: The Champions - Season 1
Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC

And the other judges couldn’t agree more.

“You’re a champion of life,” Howie Mandel said, as Heidi Klum added, “You look beautiful, you sounded beautiful.”

In the finals, Okwuchi heads to the finals, where she will compete against fellow Golden Buzzer-winning singers Susan Boyle and Angelica Hale.

America’s Got Talent showed me there is life after burns. I feel like I owe it to the kids who lost their lives in the accident to live in exemplary ways that will make those who we lost proud if they were here,” Okwuchi said.

“That’s why I’m here on America’s Got Talent: The Champions. This is my chance to follow my dream and I know what it means to actually be here right now. I didn’t win last time and I feel like I have found my voice. This is my chance to prove I am a champion,” she added.

Also moving on to the finals, thanks to fan votes, is AGT season 11 finalist Brian Justin Crum, who performed Elton John’s “Your Song.”

America’s Got Talent: The Champions airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on NBC.