"Literally the minute he came out on stage, my whole body shifted," Julianne Hough says of Luke Islam
The judge, 30, gave the coveted prize to aspiring Broadway star Luke Islam, who brought Hough to tears with his standing ovation-worthy rendition of “She Used to Be Mine” from Sara Bareilles’ Waitress.
Reflecting on her golden choice, Hough tells PEOPLE that choosing the 12-year-old singer from Garden City, New York, was a no-brainer.
“It was so instant,” she recalls. “Literally the minute he came out on stage, my whole body shifted and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ His essence and what he was giving off was star power.”
Hough adds, “I was just blown away. I hit that Golden Buzzer and was tingly all over, I got goosebumps.”
Islam being the recipient of Hough’s Golden Buzzer was all the more touching as he and his sister see the former Dancing with the Stars judge and champion as their role model. “Me and my sister have been following [their] dancing for a very long time,” he said of Hough and her brother Derek’s careers, adding that she is his favorite judge.
“I’m extremely flattered that you would even look up to my brother and I with a voice like that, with an energy like that,” Hough said as Islam began to cry. “You have such talent and grace. You have something so special. You have an essence inside of you that has given you a gift.”
“And I believe not only are you going to become a star and get your dream to come true but I don’t think you need to wait that much longer, because … ” she said, pushing the Golden Buzzer.
Islam, who grew up putting together shows in his house with his sister, has been going to Broadway musicals for half of his young life. “When Luke was 6 years old, I took him to his first Broadway show and something sparked,” his mom said.
“Every weekend, I entered the Broadway lotteries and that way I could get discounted tickets, and beg my parents to take me,” shared Islam, who revealed he’s seen Kinky Boots eight times. “I love the audience, I love the crowd, I love the stage, the props, the costumes. I want to be up there, I want to do what they do. Broadway is so good!”
Judge Gabrielle Union praised the young star’s vocal talent, saying “You killed it!”
Howie Mandel added, “I think we’re watching the beginning of your dream coming true.”
“What’s so important if you move forward, don’t put yourself into a generic music pool. You got to sing songs that every one of your performances is an audition for the best producers on Broadway. You really got to make an impression. This is really key,” Simon Cowell advised.
Islam will advance to the live shows, where he will compete against fellow Golden Buzzer winners Detroit Youth Choir (Terry Crews’ choice), violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa, singer Joseph Allen (Mandel’s choice), and singer Kodi Lee (Union’s choice).
“My dream is to be a star and make it to Broadway,” Islam told the judges. “All my life I’ve been thinking about Broadway and I love it so, so much. America’s Got Talent is the next way to achieve that goal.”
After receiving Hough’s Golden Buzzer, Islam told the crowd, “I can’t believe it, I’m in shock. I never expected something like this to happen in my whole life. I’m so grateful, thank you so much.”
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.