Tissue Alert

By Rebecca Angel Baer
June 12, 2019
Tyler Butler-Figueroa
Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

In Tuesday night's episode of America's Got Talent, 11-year-old Tyler Butler-Figueroa confidently walked onstage wearing light-up sneakers and toting a violin. The segment began as all the others do; the judges asked him a little about himself. But this was no ordinary story, and Tyler wasn't just another contestant. He was something extra-special—something golden.

Judge Julianne Hough started out with the usual questions, what's your name? How old are you? What made you want to start playing violin? Then Tyler replied, "I wanted to start playing violin because I was being bullied in school." The judges and audience responded in unison with an "aww," and Hough asked, "Do you know why you were being bullied?" The North Carolina resident answered, "It's because I had cancer. I almost died." This response stunned judges and audience members alike and then the video segment explaining Tyler's story began to play.

At age four, Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent chemotherapy.

"When I lost my hair, I was really sad and embarrassed at the same time to go to school. They used to make fun of me and laugh at me because I was different. They would spread rumors to say that my cancer was contagious, and they all wanted to stay away from me," he explained. One day, Tyler saw a flyer at school for an after-school program that offered free violin lessons. Tyler begged his mom to let him go. Puzzled at his sudden interest in music, Tyler's mom said yes and remarked on the near immediate change in her son's behavior. "Once he started that class it was like a sunshine. He was just full of energy. Happy. And I was like oh my God, I got my son back."

"I just didn't want to be the kid with cancer, so now I'm the kid who plays violin," Tyler said as the video ended. With a cue from the judges, music begins and Tyler signals to the crowd to clap along to the beat. He then picked up his bow and instrument and bounced around the stage playing a dynamic version of Kelly Clarkson's all too appropriate power ballad, "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"

As his performance came to an end, Tyler was overcome by emotion, evoking sympathy and tears from judges and audience members alike. Through tears, Tyler answers Simon Cowell's ask of how he feels right now with, "I'm feeling really proud of myself." He then told Cowell that he has been in remission for nearly 4years. He has clearly come out of this cancer battle stronger.

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"You know what, you are an extraordinary young man. We hear too many stories about people being bullied but I can tell you one thing. Most people are bullied because they are better than the people who bully them," Cowell told Tyler. The oft gruff British judge then told Tyler that he has so much talent and that he had a message for those who bullied him. Cowell then stood up and slammed his hand down that golden button. As golden confetti rained from the rafters, Tyler succumbed his joyous tears and his mom jumped for joy in the wings before running out to embrace her son. What a powerful and inspiring story. Way to go Tyler! We are rooting for you!