Why The Lack of Variety In The ‘AGT’ Golden Buzzers?

Julia Delbel
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courtney hadwinJustin Lubin/NBC

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for an upcoming America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer recipient.


AGT has been on the air for over a decade, but there’s one thing that has become a staple of the program despite not being part of it for nearly that long – the coveted Golden Buzzer.

What started as a sort of reverse-veto that allowed each judge to send one act that would have otherwise been cut during the audition process to Vegas Week now gives each judge (and host) the power to send one act straight from the auditions to the live shows.

None of the acts that received the Golden Buzzer in its original form managed to get past Vegas Week, but the current iteration of the device has had quite the impact on the show. The current AGT rules send all Golden Buzzer acts to the quarter-finals, with the vast majority of recipients over the past three seasons advancing to the semi-finals, and more than half making it all the way to the finals. Perhaps most significant of all? The three most recent AGT champions – Paul Zerdin, Grace VanderWaal, and Darci Lynne Farmer – all received a Golden Buzzer.


The correlation between the Golden Buzzer and success on the show is very clear, but another trend involving the honor has become apparent to many fans of the show: the amount of singers who have been recipients.

In Season 10, three out of eight Golden Buzzers given out went to singing acts, including The CraigLewis Band, Arielle Baril, and Sharon Irving.

This number grew to five out of nine in Season 11, with the recipients consisting of Laura Bretan, Sal Valentinetti, Jayna Brown, Calysta Bevier, and the aforementioned eventual champion Grace VanderWaal.


Season 12 saw the trend rise even more, with eight out of nine Golden Buzzers going to singers: Angelina Greene, Angelica Hale, Mandy Harvey, Johnny Manuel, Celine Tam, Christian Guardino, Chase Gohering, and Darci Lynne Farmer.

So far this seems to be continuing in Season 13. Three out of four Golden Buzzers we’ve seen so far have gone to singers, and though the audition has yet to be televised, Heidi Klum confirmed a few months ago that she also used her Golden Buzzer on a singer. This marks three seasons of all four of the full-time judges choosing solo singers as their Golden Buzzer act.

Many fans have expressed frustration with this, and understandably so. As more and more singers get Golden Buzzers, less and less acts of other talents do. For a lot of people, what makes AGT must-see television is the opportunity to see performers they wouldn’t get to on other reality competition programs like, say, The Voice or American Idol, so it can be disheartening when most of the acts who receive such a prestigious advantage are those who would have more opportunities in reality television anyway.

As hard as it can be seeing variety acts seemingly pushed aside in favor of the singers, there are a few probable reasons for the trend. The first season all four judges used their Golden Buzzers on singing acts was Season 11, the first which saw Simon Cowell join the panel. There was a noticeable shift towards musical acts that season in general, which could be in part because Simon was not a judge on any other reality show produced in America at the time. With his pull in the industry, it’s only natural that a lot of vocalists would want to try to get a foot in the door with him, and that he would want to utilize the show as a way to get more emerging artists signed to Syco Entertainment.

The other shift AGT saw in Season 11 was a spike in ratings. It was a big summer show before, but that year was when it became absolutely HUGE. A lot of this can probably be attributed to Grace VanderWaal, whose audition featuring her Golden Buzzer moment went viral online.

Grace’s victory and subsequent mainstream success took AGT’s popularity to a whole new level, so naturally we got even more child singers looking for their own big break in Season 12. The judges’s Golden Buzzer choices for that season made it clear they were all determined to be the one to discover the next internet sensation and point them on the path to victory.

That year gave us even more viral Golden Buzzer moments, most notably from champion Darci Lynne Farmer and runner-up Angelica Hale. Both girls were child singers with powerhouse voices who melted the hearts of viewers, and while neither has quite managed to reach Grace’s level of mainstream notoriety, both have established entertainment careers in their own right.

When it comes down to it, musical acts – especially singers – are more likely to have mainstream entertainment career potential than most other genres of performance. Since the Golden Buzzer has become more about the judges staking their claim as the one to have “discovered” an act, it makes sense why they would try to choose someone with potential to stay popular and relevant in the media after the season is over.

That being said, it’s definitely sad to see a lack of variety in the choices as of late. AGT has always prided itself on being a variety show with a mixed bag of acts, but the number of Golden Buzzers and live show spots that have gone to singing acts over the past few seasons has definitely taken that vibe away to a certain extent. I do think acts should advance to the live shows because they’re exceptionally good, not to fill some sort of a “variety quota”, but I find it very hard to believe that the quality of all these singing acts somehow just happens to be miles above that of the majority of magicians, comedians, and daredevils.

It’s also worth pointing out that several non-singing acts in recent seasons – such as Mat Franco, Piff the Magic Dragon, The Clairvoyants, and Tape Face – have all gone on to success in their respective fields of entertainment. While it can be hard for performers in this vein to appeal to an audience as wide as the musical acts can, I’ve noticed the amount of AGT viewers with “singer fatigue” has been increasing quite a bit as of late. None of the Season 13 Golden Buzzer recipients we’ve seen so far have made as many waves online or in the media as Grace, Darci, and Angelica. The closest so far was Courtney Hadwin, who was a viral hit but wasn’t really “water cooler talk” the way the aforementioned three were.

I think if a judge were to use their Golden Buzzer on a variety act among the sea of singers we’ve been swimming in, it might really pay off for them. Of course, we already know all four regular panellists have chosen singers for Season 13, but we still have the guest judges coming up in the next round…

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