Stockton spoken-word poet Brandon Leake delivers stunning final performance on ‘America’s Got Talent’ finale


Stockton spoken-word poet Brandon Leake delivers stunning final performance on ‘America’s Got Talent’ finale

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Elizabeth Roberts
| The Record

A stunning prayer for 6-month-old baby daughter Aaliyah brought the house down on tonight’s “America’s Got Talent” season finale, prompting an outpouring of calls online for Stockton spoken-word performer Brandon Leake to take the top spot.   

“I will never forget, never forgot all the things that you made me feel, how I was already in love with you before I could ever hold you,” he began. “Before your mother cradled you into existence, I prayed for you the best way I knew how. By praying for me.”

“Praying my inadequacies not become a family legacy, that these sins I carry me to cemetery before they ever become hereditary. … I want our time spent to be godsent.”

He went on, as he cradled his arms:

“I’ll never forget holding you in my palms for the very first time, how your presence compelled time to stand still because it knew in that moment nothing else mattered. … With you in my grasp I understood what it meant to wear your heart on your sleeve.”

Viewers will determine the winner after tonight’s finale via an online vote.

Leake, who spoke to The Record a few days before his heart-wrenching series of letters to his long-absent father earned him a spot in Tuesday’s finale, shared that his father was watching that night.

“Hey, dad, it’s me, Brandon,” he spoke onstage during Sept. 8’s semifinals in a piece he hoped would give people “a sense of hope and renewal.” “All I ever wanted was for you to acknowledge my existence.”

 “We had a good little conversation,” Leake told “This was one of the first times I got to talk about our healing and I got a chance to share, so that was awesome.”

Leake shared a little of his journey to “AGT” leading up to Tuesday’s season finale and what it took to get there.

“Just enough money in my pocket to get from #Stockton to the audition,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “I remember walking into that place hundreds of people there, and just thinking to myself, “Brandon, your pregnant wife is at home, you hundreds of miles away, and you only got 90 seconds… YOU BETTER MAKE SURE ITS WORTH IT!!!!”

It was, earning him the coveted Golden Buzzer from judge Howie Mandel, a groundbreaking moment for the spoken word community. But the hours preceding his now-historic first appearance were as heart-stopping as one of his poems, beginning with a mad rush back to L.A. because the coronavirus ramped up the schedule, a car breaking down on the Grapevine, and just a few hours of sleep.

“I just remember looking up and asking God to let me get this moment, we worked so hard for it already let’s finish it,” he recounted.

“Then they called me up to go back stage, I’m hyping myself up ready to go and right as I get ready to walk on they tell me… “Wait we are gonna have someone else go up before you. … Ruined all my adrenaline. But when they called me up for real, I just remember saying a prayer, and then a few minutes later, 🎊🎉 …”

More: Photos: ‘AGT’ contestant Brandon Leake through the years in Stockton

Leake’s performance June 30, a first on the “AGT” stage, visibly moved the judges as he spoke about the painful process of mourning and accepting the death of his younger sister, Danielle Marie Gibson, who died in 1997 at just 8 months old.

“It’s amazing to me that on Season 15 it’s the first time we’re hearing … spoken word,” Mandel said. “There was something more, so raw. It’s like singing and talking and just being a human a cappella. No music, no nothing. Just a raw heart beating in front of us. We feel your pain. We feel your love and you moved me to do this.”

For his next performance, he shared how his mother, Carla Leake-Gibson, calls him “Pookie,” but quickly grew more serious as he evoked the names of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who never returned home to their own mothers.

“I’ve never been more moved in my life on this show by any other act,” Mandel said after Tuesday night’s performance. “We need you on this show. We need you in this world. … You matter.”

The message struck a deep chord with fans amid widespread protests in the wake of a string of fatal police shootings of unarmed Blacks, but also spoke to a universal human emotion that transcends race and politics.

“It isn’t really a political statement – it’s my mother’s desire for me to make it home,” he said. “I hope that … we can look at each other and say the loss of anyone’s life is tragic.”

Leake, who graduated from Edison High, first starting writing poetry in middle school at Commodore Stockton Skills School, but focused more on sports as he grew older. It wasn’t until college that his love of verse and spoken word was reborn; working with Stockton Poet Laureate Tama Brisbane on an All-America City piece after he returned to the community from college further stoked his passion.

He often speaks of his struggles growing up in south Stockton amid a difficult home life, and inspiring youth is a big part of what Leake, 27, a teacher and counselor, devotes his life to.

“What I hope is, my former students at Edison and Able Charter will see, ‘If he chased after his dream, I can do the same thing.’ And that Stockton isn’t a place that you have to run away from.”

He’s hoping his time on the show enables him to work full time and support his family through his art as it continues to reach fans across the world — whether or not he comes away with the win and the $1 million prize and Vegas show.

More: Stockton’s Brandon Leake brings the house down on ‘America’s Got Talent’

More: Stockton’s Brandon Leake delivers heart-wrenching performance in ‘America’s Got Talent’ semifinals

“I want to win but win, lose or draw, I came here with a purpose and part of it has been fulfilled,” he told The Record earlier this month.

“At the end of the day, my desire is for my art form is to get people to think critically. … I really want my art to be a reflection of the times, but also an aspiration of what the times can become.”

Besides Leake, the top 10 finalists include singers Roberta Battaglia and Cristina Rae along with aerialist Alan Silva, the Bello Sisters and Bad Salsa, and singers Archie Williams, Daneliya  Tuleshova, Kenadi Dodds and duo Broken Roots.

Viewers can vote up to 10 times for their favorite performer; voting closes at 4 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday:

Contact reporter Elizabeth Roberts at (209) 546-8268 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @eroberts209.

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