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Where Are the ‘America’s Got Talent’ Winners Now? (Part 2)

Jason Ginsburg

Jason Ginsburg

Peter Kramer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

America’s Got Talent has dazzled us with unique acts for 12 seasons. But does winning the show translate to big-time, long-term success?

I conducted a review of the first six winners of AGT and found that just one, ventriloquist Terry Fator, managed to turn the victory into a lucrative career. Terry has had his own show at the Las Vegas Hilton since 2008. The others still perform, and occasionally release music themselves or through smaller labels, but none have sustained their fame. Season Four winner Kevin Skinner is a special case: His career was derailed by struggles with mental illness.

So what about the other six winners to date? Let’s take a look.

Season Seven – Olate Dogs

Remember when dogs won America’s Got Talent? They were trained by the father-and-son team of Richard and Nicholas Olate. Judge Sharon Osbourne said the act represented “true love on that stage.” After winning, the Olates made the usual rounds of AGT-related live shows, including performances in Las Vegas and a national tour with other winners and fan favorites. They also performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and at several NBA halftimes. Nicholas even used the fame to record a pop album with producer Tommy Marolda, who worked with Imagine Dragons and the Killers. The dogs still perform around the country, and do events that bring awareness to pet adoption.

Season Eight – Kenichi Ebina

The martial arts/mime/video/performance artist showed why AGT isn’t just a singing competition. His art isn’t that kind that gets released in albums or cast in movies, but I’d say Ebina has found significant success after winning. He returned to Japan in 2015 and has appeared on TV and live shows there. He is still performing around the world, from Singapore to Austria to Israel.

Season Nine – Mat Franco

Did Mat Franco find success after winning America’s Got Talent? Let’s ask him at the Mat Franco Theater in Las Vegas, where he’s had his own show for two years, which the Las Vegas Review-Journal named “The Best Magic Show in Las Vegas” and which the readers of the Las Vegas Weekly crowned “The Best Show on the Strip.” Magicians don’t become superstars that way pop singers do, but a residency in Vegas and tons of accolades don’t point to anything but success.

Season 10 – Paul Zerdin

Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin was the fourth non-singer in a row win. This really helped separate AGT from other talent competition shows, which focus on either song or dance. After winning, Paul has continued to perform with his puppets, both in his native Britain and around the world. He has released a DVD of his show and does professional voice-over work. He’s famous in his home country and makes a living completely off his art — that’s success to me.

Season 11 – Grace VanderWaal

It has only been a little over a year since Grace, then 11, won AGT, but she has already found mainstream success as a singer. She has released an EP and an album through a major label. She performed in Las Vegas (where she couldn’t gamble or drink) at Planet Hollywood. Grace then won the Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist, the Teen Choice Award for Next Big Thing, and the Billboard Women in Music Rising Star Award. Her full-length album, Just the Beginning, peaked at #22 in the US and #20 in Canada. And she writes her own songs. Add all this up and I think it is indeed just the beginning of a successful music career.

Season 12 – Darci Lynne Farmer

It hasn’t been long since Darci and her puppets won America’s Got Talent, but it seems she’s on the right track. Her first official performance, in her home state of Oklahoma, sold out in just six minutes. She is starting a national tour in early 2018: Darci Lynne and Friends Live. She even performed with previous AGT-winning ventriloquist Terry Fator.

I accompanied Talentino when he went to see Darci (and Petunia) at Madison Square Garden, and her performance was just as remarkable in person as it was on AGT. Perhaps the biggest indication of her future came with the news that she signed with United Talent Agency, which is looking ahead to a TV series and a record deal, according to Billboard.

After looking at all 12 winners, the conclusion is clear: When AGT strays from straightforward singing acts, it helps its winners achieve great success. Grace VanderWaal may be the lone exception. Also: For whatever reason, ventriloquists do quite well, winning three times.

Who was your favorite winner of AGT so far? Who do you think will have the biggest success? Have you seen any of the winners perform in person? Let us know in the comments or tweet at @Ginsburg or @TalentRecap.

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