A choir made up of members of San Diego's homeless community took the stage Tuesday on the premiere of NBC’s “America's Got Talent” and wowed the judges not only with their performance, but with their stories.
“I didn’t learn to read until I was 15. I graduated high school at a 3rd grade reading level,” said Minta Taylor, a member of East Village-based Voices of Our City Choir.
“I’m transgender and I wanted to go get surgery. And I didn’t have anyone to take me there and take the time out to be there,” said Raven Jones.
"If it wasn’t for the choir, I wouldn’t be here," said a member on the taped episode.
They’re from different walks of life, but each member of the choir has struggled. Beyond that they have another thing in common.
“We bonded as musicians and artists,” said the choir’s executive director Steph Johnson.
That's Johnson started the choir program. In the last four years the organization has placed more than 50 people in housing, while helping hundreds find connections, food, clothing and a helping hand.
Tuesday’s recorded episode ended with Voices of Our City getting the “Golden Buzzer,” which sends them straight to the live rounds.
“It was the biggest thrill of a lifetime. Nothing can ever be more exciting,” said Taylor.
Things have paused since that first performance because the pandemic putting everyone in crisis. Until they can perform together again, they hope they can get a message across to others living as they have.
“Maybe it gives them strength when they see someone just like them on stage,” said choir member Kentt Hyphen Bradley.
“I hope it inspires the world to look at homelessness differently, to look at it more compassionately and with more empathy,” said Johnson.
The Voices of Our City Choir still hosts a weekly food bank and offers outlets for phone charging at the Living Water Church in the East Village.
"America's Got Talent" airs every Tuesday at 8 p.m. for west coast viewers.