Some of the franchise’s most famous names (Susan Boyle!) will compete, along with competitors who have some truly bizarre skills. We weeded through the 50 acts to find five that are the most unusual — and learned that watching people show off weird talents may be the thing that unites us all.
Uzeyer Novruzov, ladder balancer (Azerbaijan)
Back when Uzeyer Novruzov auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” Season 10 in 2015, he scaled a ladder and then balanced on top of it. While that’s in his job description as a professional ladder balancer, it was still terrifying to others: “I thought that, for my life, I’d be part of a YouTube video where a poor man falls to his death,” guest judge Michael Bublé said.
Novruzov was fine. As a former circus performer, he performs death-defying stunts all the time. (Once, he fell on his head and was in a coma for three days. And then got back to work.) Novruzov, 42, sailed through “AGT” to the Top 10, even though, in a gasp-inducing semifinals moment, he tumbled off the ladder while trying to balance with two hoops. One of the reasons he wanted to return to the show, he said, was to inspire viewers to conquer their fears.
“I was not scared after the fall,” Novruzov said in a phone interview. “I want to show people that no matter what happens in life, you just have to continue to do what you want to do.”
Novruzov, whose performances have been viewed millions of times online, is grateful for the fans who voted him into the finals despite his mistake.
“When I fell, it was a real shocking moment for me,” he said. “The next day, when I realized that America put me through the final, it changed a lot of things inside of me. I thought, ‘Wow, people everywhere, they are the same — they care.”
DJ Arch Jnr, kid DJ (South Africa)
As “South Africa’s Got Talent” host Tats Nkonzo wandered around backstage during Season 6 tryouts, he approached a man holding his young son. “Are you the one that’s doing the thing?” Nkonzo asked the man, assuming he was about to go audition.
“No,” the man said, grinning as he gestured to his son. “He is.”
Nkonzo’s confusion was understandable — the boy was the youngest contestant in the show’s history. A few moments later, 3-year-old Oratilwe AJ Hlongwane took the stage with his father, who informed the judges that his son was a DJ named DJ Arch Jnr. The judges looked amused, and then mystified, while DJ Arch Jnr (ridiculously adorable in a puffy red coat and headphones bigger than his head) started twisting knobs and pressing buttons, as he dropped some killer beats.
DJ Arch Jnr went on to win the season, the youngest winner ever in the “Got Talent” franchise. He’s now 6, apparently unfazed by his viral fame, and travels the globe playing shows. The Guinness Book of World Records named him the world’s youngest club DJ.
“ ‘SA’s Got Talent’ really boosted his confidence,” his father, Glen Hlongwane, wrote in an email. “No matter how big the stage is or how many cameras are pointing at his direction, little Arch doesn’t seem to be bothered at all, he just gets his jam on.”
Now, as Arch competes on “Champions,” Hlongwane knows some viewers won’t believe that his son is actually DJing. He’s battled skeptics before, and doesn’t mind: “Most people that thought his sets were prerecorded had something different to say when they actually saw him play live.”
Kseniya Simonova, sand animation artist (Ukraine)
It is simultaneously simple and difficult to describe Kseniya Simonova’s work as a sand artist. On one hand, it’s exactly what it sounds like — she creates pictures with sand. On the other, it’s unbelievably complicated, as she tells a story through each drawing, and sometimes they’re so emotional they move people to tears.
The world discovered Simonova’s artistry in 2009, when she won the inaugural season of “Ukraine’s Got Talent.” She became a hero in her hometown of Yevpatoriya in Crimea. One of her final appearances on the show, a sand art retelling of scenes from the Soviet victory during World War II (known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia) has more than 39 million YouTube views.
“I think it will be viewed also in 100 years. As it would have been viewed 100 years ago if that was possible,” Simonova, 33, said in a translated email. “The reason is simple. I tell about life. Life is always life, love, death, pain, joy, birth, war. . . . I just tell my story.”
How does one wind up as a sand artist? In a YouTube video, Simonova talks about seeing “fantastic things” in her dreams as a child, and she would wake up and try to draw in the air with her finger. She didn’t consider sand art until she was a graphic design student, when she saw a glass table covered in sand while visiting a magazine office, and the editor encouraged her to create a drawing.
Initially, Simonova didn’t want to return to the “Got Talent” stage; yet eventually, she felt that competitive spirit.
“I was sure ‘UGT’ was my first ever and last ever contest,” she said. “But ‘AGT: Champions’ was announced as contest among winners. I couldn’t give up my winner title.”
Stevie Starr, regurgitator (Scotland)
Warning: If you have a weak stomach, you may want to look away when Stevie Starr comes on the screen. Starr, 56, is known as the Professional Regurgitator because . . . well, he can regurgitate things. Anything, really.
“I’m gonna swallow things and bring them up again,” Starr said matter-of-factly to host Nick Cannon before his audition during “America’s Got Talent” Season 10 in 2015.
In fact, that’s what he did. Explaining he could regurgitate any object (keys, lightbulbs, goldfish, bees), he gulped down and then brought back up four coins. Cannon looked repulsed, but the judges loved it, and were intrigued by his backstory. Starr explained that he discovered this talent when he was living in an orphanage growing up in Scotland, and would swallow his money so the other kids couldn’t take it away.
Starr (who wasn’t available for an interview) finished in fourth place that season. That was after he had already completed successful stints on the British, Italian and French versions of “Got Talent” — proving that audiences all over the world are fascinated by spectacles that are both extremely impressive and extremely gross.
Billy and Emily England, danger roller skaters (Britain)
When Billy and Emily England were young, their mother was desperate to get them to play outside, despite the gross weather in the U.K.; so as motivation, she bought the siblings roller skates. They soon realized they had a knack for stunts, and over years of performing at schools, churches and on local TV, they honed their act as a danger roller skating duo.
If you don’t think something is possible to do on skates, they’ll prove you wrong: flips, lifts, Billy spinning Emily around at dangerous speeds. It’s not uncommon to see panicked audience members cover their eyes, sure they’re about to witness a horrific accident.
As Emily said in a phone interview, the goal is: “How scared can we make people?” The strategy worked flawlessly on Season 9 of “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2015, when they made it to the semifinals. (“I’ve actually never seen an act like that in my life,” judge Simon Cowell said.) Two years later, they went to the semifinals on Season 12 of “America’s Got Talent” and stunned the judges when Emily spun around while just holding Billy’s beard.
On “Champions,” they hope to promote “Absinthe,” the Las Vegas circus where they perform, and show off their routines on the side of the pond that especially appreciates their skills. “Roller skating in America is way bigger than in England,” said Billy, adding that Americans will wistfully tell him their childhood skating stories. “So people love it more out here.”
America’s Got Talent: The Champions (two hours) premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC.