LOS ANGELES – Less than an hour after his triumphant moment on the Dolby Theatre stage Wednesday, “America’s Got Talent” winner Kodi Lee was savoring the experience.
“It was unbelievable,” said the singer and pianist from Lake Elsinore, California, who just a little while earlier was being serenaded with “Kodi, Kodi, Kodi,” by an exuberant crowd that saw him win the fan vote after Tuesday’s performance finale. Detroit Youth Choir was runner-up and comedian Ryan Niemiller finished third.
Asked if he thought he would win, Lee, who is blind and has autism, had no doubt. “Heck, yeah!” he said, offering his signature exclamation. “I’m a winner.”
The Season 14 champ was joined by his mother, Tina Lee, who has often been seen by her son’s side on “AGT” and was the inspiration behind his choice of a competition finale song, Freya Ridings’ “Lost Without You.”
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“That’s for my mom,” he said.
Although Lee has been considered by many to be the favorite since his audition in the season opener earned him judge Gabrielle Union’s golden buzzer, fellow judge Simon Cowell didn’t necessarily think he was a shoo-in because of strong performances in Tuesday’s performance finale and closer-than-expected voting in the semifinal round.
That said, “Everybody rooted for him and he’s probably one of the most popular winners we’ve had on one of these shows,” Cowell said. “He’s got an amazing talent. … The guy’s just an absolute star. He’s one of those contestants you’re going to remember. You’ll always remember that first audition.”
The victory is a thrill for Lee and his family, but it has a larger meaning, especially for people who have special needs and their families, Tina Lee said.
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“It’s amazing. It’s opening doors for other families and to know that we made a difference is huge. I knew (Kodi) was here for a reason and, and now this proves it,” she said. “Winning the show is shocking but he did more than the show. He changed the world. He’s going to make it easier for families. He’s going to inspire families. He’s going to give strength to parents.”
Union, a first-season judge, also sees a larger significance to Lee’s “AGT” participation and victory.
“I recognize this young man will change the world and hopefully will open up many more opportunities for so many individuals and families that are fighting tooth and nail every day to get attention and resources for all of our kids and make sure (they) have an equal opportunity to win at life, not just on the ‘AGT’ stage,” she said.
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Lee is a “true artist,” too, said Union, who was impressed when he went “toe-to-toe” in a duet with Leona Lewis during Wednesday’s results show.
“She went on a run and he went on a run. And I was like, ‘Oh! Challenge accepted.’ That’s when you saw me stand up and I pumped my fists. He was like, ‘You’re not going to outshine me on the stage tonight,'” she said. “And that’s how I know he’s ready for the world’s biggest stages.”
Lee, whose website says he is a musical prodigious savant with perfect pitch, feels at ease singing and playing the piano. “Music helps me communicate better,” he said.
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His mother picked up that thread, saying it’s worked the other way, too, as Kodi Lee’s “AGT” appearances have helped him communicate better in non-musical ways, too.
“Now, he can form sentences and that’s amazing to me. So, we’re very thankful to the show,” she said. “They did a really great service for Kodi.”
Tina Lee and Kodi’s father, Eric, and siblings Derek and Kayla, who also were in attendance, have supported him on “AGT,” but he has given much to them, Tina Lee said.
“Having Kodi taught me lots of patience and how to be a better person and how to let things go. Like people take everything for granted and he’s taught me how you don’t need to do that and (that) you need to always be happy,” she said. Derek and Kayla “are really good kids. They have big hearts. Kodi has done that. I’ve watched him do that to everybody. I’ve watched him change people’s hearts.”
Going forward, Lee, who was born with optic nerve hypoplasia that rendered him legally blind, wants to continue making and sharing music. “Oh, my gosh! I want to make plenty of albums.”
Sal Spinelli, Lee’s friend, vocal coach and musical collaborator, said the young musician has more skills that fans will enjoy.
“They know him as somebody who plays other people’s songs really well” on ‘AGT,'” he said. “He actually does create lyrics, melodies, chord progressions and the world will soon find out he does that.”
Before new albums and headlining “America’s Got Talent Live” in Las Vegas in November, however, what did the newly crowned “AGT” champ want to do the day after his win?
Lee thought about the thrilling, head-spinning experience actually coming to a close: “Ohhhhh. And it’s over, huh?”
His mom understood the sentiment: “We haven’t really thought that far, either. Except breakfast.”
Kodi Lee was in complete agreement: “Breakfast.”