Sofia Vergara Recalls Brother’s Death During Powerful AGT Audition: ‘I Can Feel Your Pain’
"I know what it is to have somebody taken from you without you knowing," said the Modern Family actress, whose older brother was killed in Colombia in 1998
On Tuesday's episode of the competition series, 27-year-old Brandon Leake took the stage — in front of an empty audience due to the show's health precautions amid the pandemic — to perform a spoken-word set. The audition greatly resonated with Vergara, 47, at the judges' panel.
Leake, a former high school English teacher from Stockton, California, had welcomed his first child 14 days prior to shooting the tryout. The first contestant to perform poetry on AGT, Leake prefaced his spoken word piece by dedicating it to his sister.
"Love is the most vulnerable thing one will ever have," Leake recited, "And you must learn to hold onto it loosely so when it leaves it won't exit so painfully."
In his performance, Leake recalled the death of his sister in the late ‘90s, and his grief in the wake of her passing. "I'm still haunted by these nightmares 'cause I have a really creative mind, and sometimes it designs these alternate realities where she is still here," he said.
"Still alive, and all the things I wish we could have done are played again and again and again," he continued. "I'm tired of playing God 'cause I gotta come to terms with the fact that my sister ain't never comin' back."
Tearing up at the powerful performance, Vergara was speechless immediately after, as judges Howie Mandel and Simon Cowell gave a standing ovation, saying simply, "Wow." The Modern Family actress then said that Leake's poem reminded her of her late brother.
"My brother passed away the same year that your sister passed away," she said. "I can feel your pain; I know what this is. I know what it is to have somebody taken from you without you knowing."
"But it was very beautiful for me," Vergara said of the poem.
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"What an amazing tribute," said Cowell. "There's something very, very special about you. This is a very difficult thing for me to judge. I shouldn't be judging it, I just want to compliment you on what you just did because it was extraordinary."
Mandel called the performance "raw," adding that "we feel your pain, we feel your love, and you moved me to do this" before reaching for the Golden Buzzer, raining confetti onto Leake and sending him straight to the live shows.
On Tuesday, Vergara tweeted that the emotional performance was "a great way to end the night!!!"
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In 2011, Vergara opened up about the death of her older brother Rafael in a Parade cover story, telling the magazine about how the tragedy affected her family members. According to Parade, Rafael was fatally shot in an attempted kidnapping in 1998.
"My older brother, Rafael, was killed in Colombia," she said. "A nightmare. ... Mother was like a zombie. I wanted to be with them, so I got a big house [in Miami, Florida] and we all lived together. I am so grateful to be in this country."
She added at the time: "With so many bad things happening, it creates a tough skin. You just have to take a deep breath and keep on going — if not for yourself, then for everybody you love."
America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays (8 p.m. ET) on NBC.