Lifestyle & Human Interest

11-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Earns Golden Buzzer on 'America's Got Talent' from Simon


It is remarkable enough to impress Simon Cowell, the notoriously stern judge on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” To do so at age 11 is even more extraordinary.

Tyler Butler-Figueroa of North Carolina has already been through more hardship than many adults. At the young age of 4, he was diagnosed with leukemia. His diagnosis introduced tough challenges to his everyday life, including his time at school.

As Butler-Figueroa began losing his hair to chemotherapy, he became the target of his classmates’ teasing and they spread rumors that his cancer was contagious, so his peers began to avoid him.

“When I lost my hair, I was really sad and embarrassed at the same time to go to school,” he said in a pre-audition interview with “AGT.” “They used to make fun of me and laugh at me because I was different.”

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At age 7, Butler-Figueroa stumbled upon a flyer for after-school violin lessons. To his mother’s surprise, he was immediately interested.

“He was like, ‘Mom, I want to do it! Mom, I want to do it!’” his mother said.

The young boy fell in love with music. To her delight, his mother noticed a positive change in her son’s demeanor as he became invested in playing his violin. His dedication to learning the instrument turned the after-school activity into a passion.

“Once he started that class, it was like sunshine,” his mother said. “He was just full of energy, happy.”

For Butler-Figueroa, playing the violin isn’t merely a hobby. Music serves as an escape from the negativity that used to follow him at school. His cancer has now been in remission for four years.

“When I play the violin, it helps me forget about all the bad stuff,” he said.

As Butler-Figueroa stepped on stage for his “AGT” audition, he immediately captured the judges’ hearts with his sense of style and touching story. When he started playing a rousing rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” on his violin, the judges were clearly impressed.

Watch as Tyler Butler-Figueroa makes Simon Cowell smile with his touching musical performance, which has since gone viral with over 5 million views on YouTube as of Wednesday morning:

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After he was finished, Cowell asked Butler-Figueroa how he was feeling.

“I’m feeling really proud of myself,” he answered.

“Most people are bullied because they’re better than the people who bully them,” Cowell said. “I would like to say something on your behalf to the bullies.”

It was then that Cowell pressed the Golden Buzzer, causing the theater to shake with an uproar of cheers. Butler-Figueroa and his mother embraced tearfully as they were showered in golden confetti. Cowell met them onstage to tell the boy’s mother that her son was “amazing.”

“I just didn’t want to be the kid with cancer so now I’m the kid who plays the violin,” Butler-Figueroa said.

The young musician will be joining other incredible performers for the next round of live shows in Hollywood. You can tune in to watch them wow the audience on Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.

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Noel Marquis is a journalist and animal-lover hailing from the Midwest. After an internship with Disney following her college graduation, she pursued a career writing content that makes readers smile. Coffee, books and superhero movies are some of her favorite things.