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America's Got Talent Season 12 Auditions Come to Las Vegas in Nationwide Talent Search

Article courtesy of Red Carpet Refs.
Photo credit: Cameron Bonomolo (unless otherwise noted)

What would you do for your shot at one million dollars? 

That's the question posed by America’s Got Talent every year for the past eleven years, the reality TV talent competition offering an enticing seven-figure prize and a chance to headline a show on the world famous Las Vegas Strip. 

Coming off the high of its most watched season in five years, the NBC summer staple is heading into its twelfth season. After launching twelve year old season 11 winner Grace VanderWaal to stardom, the show is once again traveling to ten cities nationwide in search of the next big thing.


​Making a stop at Ballys Las Vegas on Thursday, January 19th, America’s Got Talent had quite the task ahead: somewhere among the crowd of thousands of hopefuls, there could be the next star — and the next potential Las Vegas headline act.


Ventriloquist, impressionist, comedian and singer Terry Fator won it all in the show’s sophomore season, going on to sign a five-year, $100 million dollar contract, one of the largest entertainment deals in Las Vegas history. Fator is among America’s Got Talent’s biggest Cinderella stories, the show similarly discovering trendy magician Mat Franco. The first magician to win America’s Got Talent, the season nine winner would go on to land a gig headlining Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly at The Linq.


JabbaWockeeZ, a hip-hop dance group and competitors in season two, were eliminated from the competition but went on to become the first dance crew to headline a Vegas show, now residing at the MGM Grand. Murray SawChuck, magician and season five contestant, can be found at Planet Hollywood. Season ten contender John van der Put, a comedian and magician better known as Piff the Magic Dragon, performs at The Flamingo. 

America’s Got Talent propels careers into the spotlight for winners and runner ups alike, making the open casting call the most coveted talent audition in the country. Dubbed the Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas has an endless pool of entertainers and performers all dreaming of their big break, making the city of lights a virtual treasure trove of talent and an obvious stop on the nationwide tour. Singers, dancers, acrobats, impressionists, magicians, animal trainers and unique variety acts all have equal opportunity to come and try out, showcasing their talents and abilities in a preliminary round of auditions.


For America’s Got Talent, producers must then whittle down its assemblage of millions of candidates to just a handful of talented performers. From there, selected acts proceed to televised auditions in front of a panel of celebrity judges, with Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum and show creator Simon Cowell sending along acts that win the approval of at least three judges. Fail to win over the judges panel, or get buzzed out by all four judges, and you’re eliminated on the spot.

America ultimately votes for and selects the winner, but for those television-ready acts to make it to air, there’s an extensive weeding out process. As the #1 show of the summer for the past decade, there’s an obligation to unearth the most entertaining acts and place them on your television. For the contestants, the stakes are even higher.


“Once I stepped into the audition room, my heart was beating a million times an hour,” said Natalie Milan, a 16 year old singer who traveled from Guerneville, California to audition. “I think I did pretty well,” she told me. “I put my heart into my performance and enjoyed the experience, so I’d consider that a success.”

Natalie Milan.

A singer since the age of seven, Natalie began performing classical and opera music before eventually trying her hand at pop, country and original songs. A first time visitor to Las Vegas, Natalie traveled from her small hometown specifically to try out for America’s Got Talent. “I’ve watched the show for years and finally looked up the audition cities, booked a flight and took a shot at it.” 

Another contestant, Hasaun Moore, is hoping third time is the charm. “Last year I went for dancing, but I’m actually a hip-hop artist,” the 21 year old local told me. Situated just off to the side of the dance floor and decked out in a sharp outfit representing the American flag and dollar bills, Hasaun, stage name Vvibe Moore, stood out.

Hasaun Moore aka Vvibe Moore.

“I don’t curse or use any profanity, and I speak five languages so I can rap about what people ask without being derogatory,” he said, a skill that comes in handy for a freestyle artist regularly performing in front of diverse audiences on Fremont Street and the Strip. Exuding an affable and sunny demeanor, Hasaun is easy to root for. 

“I’m doing hip-hop that’s not cursing. It’s not like the radio, it’s different, and I can connect to people that don’t even like hip-hop,” he shared. “Basically, it’s Healthy Independent People Helping Other People. Hip-hop.” 

In a ballroom hall at Ballys filled with a sea of aspirants, most waiting to audition since 6 a.m., there was a mix of breathless anticipation, nervousness and excited energy. We were surrounded by potential and the very real possibility that the next big star was among us, and everyone knew it.

America's Got Talent executive producer Jason Raff.

Despite a long day of the exhaustive auditioning process, America’s Got Talent executive producer Jason Raff showed no sign of fatigue. His passion for the show and helping identify and curate talent was immediately obvious, lighting up at the mere mention of past acts — winners and runner ups alike — that went on to find success after appearing on America’s Got Talent.

Cameron Bonomolo: How long have you worked with America’s Got Talent?

Jason Raff: I’ve worked with America’s Got Talent since the beginning, and we’re on season 12, so 12 years.

CB: How did you become a producer for America’s Got Talent?

JR: I was lucky enough to get called in by NBC and Simon Cowell’s company to help launch his new idea off the ground, and it’s been a great twelve years.

CB: What are some of your responsibilities as an executive producer?

JR: As one of the executive producers, my responsibilities are to go around the country and have myself and our entire staff meet as many acts as possible, help choose which acts go on, and just be responsible for all aspects of the production as it goes from the auditions with the judges to, ultimately, the live shows at the Dolby theater [in Los Angeles, California].

CB: What do you look for in a contestant?

JR: With a contestant on America’s Got Talent, the best contestants will surprise you. So we look for any age, any talent, we have no rules as far as that goes. And it’s amazing to me when we come to Vegas or New York or Chicago, and someone enters your room and does an audition for you in a convention space, and a couple months later they’re performing for the judges. And a couple months after that, they are live on television, you know, at a theater, in LA, live on TV, seen by millions of people. It’s amazing how this show can change your life.

CB: It must be thrilling for you to find someone, and they come out of nowhere, and they take that stage and millions are watching.

JR: Yeah, there’s a huge sense of pride. And I think Vegas is a great example. I love coming back to Vegas because from the moment I get off the plane, from seeing all the ads at the airport to seeing the billboards coming into the hotels, to seeing the faces that I see advertised on hotels - a lot of these acts have a real history with America’s Got Talent! They either got their start off of America’s Got Talent, and not just the big names, the Terry Fators. I see Piff has a show now, obviously Mat Franco, his face is plastered all over this town. Even in the [Cirque du Soleil] shows, I see acts that have some history in our show who are either performers or dancers in some of the other shows in town. I love coming here because there’s a great sense of pride of seeing these acts, you know, actually doing what they love to do. 

CB: And Vegas is unique in that we have entertainers at every corner, they’re all over — we’re surrounded by entertainment.

JR: Right! We’ve met entertainers that come on our show who perform inside in the casinos and who perform on the street, and both have done fairly successfully well on our show.

CB: As a major talent competition, you have a large amount of performers coming to showcase their abilities. What’s the best way for a contestant to get your attention?

JR: Obviously there’s a star quality that some acts have, where they walk into your room, and they just have this attitude and this personality, and then they start doing whatever their act is, and they have this confidence. And they have a take on something that maybe is unique from every other person, so it’s hard to say what it is, but there’s this little spark. You just get the sense that this person in your room has something that you want to put in front of the judges, that you want to put in front of millions of people on TV. So it’s a little intangible, but it’s one of those things where when you see it, you get those goosebumps and you know.

CB: What’s your favorite part of the discovery process? 

JR: The favorite part of the discovery process is the discovery process! This is truly America, these open calls, Grace VanderWaal met us in New York, came into one of these open calls, waited for hours, finally auditioned for us, and once again it was that goosebumps moment when she sang, where you knew her life was about to change. And in less than a year, you know, coming into the open calls, she is world famous. Like, it’s insane that that can happen. And America’s Got Talent makes it possible for that to happen — it’s remarkable to me just how it can change people’s lives.

CB: What advice can you give to contestants - those trying out today and in the future?

JR: My advice is to practice, practice, practice, be really good at what you do. What is your take on your talent? I think it always helps to have these surprising moments, whether you’re a singer doing a song that - say you’re a female singer, you do a song that maybe is typically sung by males, or if you’re a dance crew, you have this move that is signature to you. You need those “wow” moments in the performance. We see a lot of acts, the judges see a lot of acts on the show. What they’re looking for is something where they go, “Wow, I haven’t seen that,” or “I haven’t seen it done that well,” so it’s hard because we have all types of acts, but we see contortionists who have a certain take on it that makes it different than other contortionists that we see. So, what is unique to you, and showcase that uniqueness.

CB: Last year, more than 14 million viewers tuned into the season 11 finale, making it AGT’s most watched season since 2011. Is there any pressure to top this come season 12?

JR: Yeah, there’s always pressure, we always try to put on a good show and you know, it’s like a party, you never know who’s gonna show up and watch it. I think it’s obviously a challenge, we’ve been on for 12 years and we want to keep it fresh for the audience and keep giving them reasons to tune in. That said, we do have the benefit of — the show is different every single episode, we’re open to all kinds of talent. 

When you turn us on, you’re not going to see a singing show or a dancing show, you’re not sure what you’re gonna see.

And hopefully, every year we show you things that you’ve never seen before. Part of the thrill of producing the show when we do these auditions is you don’t know what’s going to walk in that door, and I think that carries on when people watch it and you see all kinds of acts. 

I also think we have the benefit of the best judging panel on television, where there’s a chemistry there. It’s a family friendly show, it’s a show that a lot of people tell me they do watch with their families, they feel comfortable, they all laugh, whether they’re young or teenagers or parents. So I think we have a lot of things going for us, but all we can do is put on the best show we possibly can, and pray and hope that the audience follows us.

America’s Got Talent season 12 premieres this summer on NBC.

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