AGT's Simon Cowell Praises 'Amazing' Cancer Survivor Violinist, 11, Who Won Golden Buzzer
"I just didn't want to be the kid with cancer. So now, I'm the kid who plays the violin," Tyler Butler-Figueroa said
During Tuesday’s episode, the longtime judge and executive producer, 59, pushed the coveted button for 11-year-old violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa from North Carolina, who was diagnosed with Leukemia at 4½ years old and had been bullied by his classmates after losing his hair during chemotherapy.
“It’s one of those things you do in the moment, you just do it. He was amazing,” Cowell tells PEOPLE. “The Golden Buzzer was a really great addition.”
Tyler, who has been in remission for four years now, wowed the judges and audience with his rendition of Kelly Clarkson‘s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” on his violin.
“I started playing the violin when I was 7½. I wanted to start playing the violin because I was being bullied in school. It’s because I had cancer, I almost died,” the young artist told Cowell, Gabrielle Union, Julianne Hough and Howie Mandel.
“You are an extraordinary young man. We hear too many stories of people being bullied, but I could tell you one thing: Most people are bullied because they’re better than the people who bully them,” Cowell told Tyler after his performance.
“I think you have such an amazing talent, such a personality. I would love to say something on your behalf to the bullies,” the father of one said before reaching over to push the Golden Buzzer.
Before his breathtaking audition, Tyler and his mother Kisua recalled how the violin gave him the strength to not only beat cancer, but also prove his bullies wrong.
“The doctors treated me with chemotherapy. When I lost my hair, I was really sad and embarrassed at the same time to go to school. They used to make fun of me and laugh at me because I was different. They would spread rumors to say that my cancer was contagious and they all wanted to stay away from me,” Tyler said.
“One day, Tyler saw a flyer at his school and it said, ‘Afterschool program free violin lessons.’ He said, ‘Mom, I want to do it.’ But no one in our family plays an instrument, and the violin?” his mother Kisua said. “Once he started that class, it was like a sunshine. He was just full of energy and happy. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I got my son back.’ ”
Tyler added, “I would just practice in my bedroom and the more I did it, the better I got. When I play the violin, it helps me forget about all the bad stuff. I just didn’t want to be the kid with cancer. So now, I’m the kid who plays the violin.”
Following his Golden Buzzer moment, Tyler, who was covered in golden confetti and had tears streaming down his face, told Cowell and the judges: “I feel very proud of myself.”
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.