10 Heartbreaking Contestant Backstories Heard on Talent Shows

Jill O'Rourke
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It’s become a tradition on many talent shows for contestants to share their life stories with the judges before performing. Many contestants’ backstories are absolutely heartbreaking, as they’ve lost loved ones or struggled with illness.

Knowing the contestants’ backstories often makes their performances even more emotional. Even the most stoic of judges have been known to shed a tear or two over a particularly inspiring story. Let’s take a look at 10 examples of heartbreaking contestant backgrounds.

1. Jayy, ‘America’s Got Talent’

This singer auditioned for Season 16 of America’s Got Talent. She said she was performing in honor of her parents, who were murdered in front of her during a robbery at their grocery store. Jayy put her own dreams on hold to look after her younger siblings. Jayy sang “Lost Without You” by Freya Ridings, earning a standing ovation from the judges, who sent her through with four “yes” votes. Unfortunately, Jayy didn’t make it to the live shows.

2. Evie Clair, ‘America’s Got Talent’

This young singer auditioned for Season 12 of AGT at age 13. She teared up as she shared that her father was battling cancer, and she wanted to sing for him. Evie performed “Arms” by Christina Perri, earning four “yes” votes and making it all the way to the Finals. Sadly, Evie’s father passed away during the competition, but she continued to perform through the finale.

3. Nightbirde, ‘America’s Got Talent’

Jane Marczewski, aka Nightbirde, auditioned for Season 16 with an original song called “It’s OK.” She shared that she had been battling cancer in her lungs, spine, and liver, but insisted that she’s “so much more than the bad things that happened to me.” Nightbirde earned the Golden Buzzer from Simon Cowell, but she had to withdraw from the competition before the live shows for health reasons. Sadly, Nightbirde passed away in February 2022, at age 31.

4. Josh Daniel, ‘The X Factor UK’

This singer auditioned for Season 12 of The X Factor, singing “Jealous” by Labrinth. Before his performance, Josh told the judges that he was singing the song for his best friend, who passed away at age 18. He explained that he interpreted the lyrics to relate to his jealousy that his friend has “moved on to a better place” without him. The performance was so emotional that Simon Cowell broke down in tears and couldn’t even speak.

5. Kechi, ‘America’s Got Talent’

In Season 12, this Nigerian singer shared her story of surviving a plane crash that killed 107 out of 109 passengers. She said music was an escape for her as she recovered from her injuries. Kechi sang “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran, earning four “yes” votes. She made it to the Finals and later returned for AGT: The Champions, where she earned a Golden Buzzer from Cowell.

6. Aliki, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’

This singer auditioned for Season 7 of BGT, telling the judges that she had suffered from encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain) and “couldn’t speak, read, write, walk.” She had to do everything with the help of her mother, but she gradually recovered. Aliki performed “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence. She received four “yes” votes from the judges and made it to the Semifinals.

7. Calysta Bevier, ‘America’s Got Talent’

This singer was 16 years old when she auditioned for AGT Season 11. She explained why her hair was so short, sharing that she had survived stage 3 ovarian cancer. Calysta said she wanted to inspire people to “keep chasing your dreams.” She performed “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, earning the Golden Buzzer from Cowell. She made it to the Semifinals.

8. Matt Mauser, ‘America’s Got Talent’

This singer auditioned for Season 16 of AGT, sharing that his wife Christina had been killed in the same helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant. Matt sang “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)” by Phil Collins, earning four “yes” votes. He initially didn’t make it to the live shows, but he was brought back to compete for a wildcard position. He sang “The Way You Look Tonight” but unfortunately didn’t win the spot.

9. Lauren Engle, ‘American Idol’

In Season 17 of American Idol, this singer shared that she and her husband were in a car accident, and her husband sadly didn’t make it. She said she wanted to keep pursuing music to honor him. Lauren performed an original song called “Compass,” earning three “yes” votes from the judges. Unfortunately, Lauren was eliminated during Hollywood Week.

10. Tyler Butler-Figueroa, ‘America’s Got Talent’

This young violinist was 11 years old when he auditioned for Season 14 of AGT. He shared that he had been bullied at school after being diagnosed with leukemia at a young age. He added that he’d been in remission for almost four years. Tyler performed “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson on the violin, earning the Golden Buzzer from Cowell. He made it to the Finals and later appeared on AGT: The Champions, where he finished in third place.

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