As one of only two survivors on a Nigerian plane that crashed and stole 107 lives, Kechi Okwuchi struggled with the fact that she lived and 60 of her classmates from Loyola Jesuit College did not. She sustained third degree burns across her entire body and eventually was flown from South Africa to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Texas for treatment because her case was so severe.
Okwuchi has endured more than 100 reconstructive surgeries as medical teams tried to rebuild her body. But her soul needed attention, too. While recovering in the hospital, her mom always sang to her, allowing music to become a huge part of her life.
People looked past her extensive scarring and reconstructed features and were able to see – and hear—the beautiful person inside. Okwuchi finally summoned the courage to audition during the 12th season of America’s Got Talent in 2017 and ended up a finalist, according to People.
The 28-year-old was invited to compete on America’s Got Talent: The Champions and performed an incredibly powerful rendition of Calum Scott’s “You Are The Reason.” Not only did her dress sparkle in the spotlight, but so did her performance. She was simply stunning in many ways.
She’s made her mission to speak out about childhood trauma, specifically for burn victims. Being on America’s Got Talent helped give her a platform to reach many.
— America's Got Talent (@AGT) January 29, 2019
“America’s Got Talent showed me there is life after burns. I feel like I owe it to the kids who lost their lives in the accident to live in exemplary ways that will make those who we lost proud if they were here,” Okwuchi said. “That’s why I’m here on America’s Got Talent: The Champions. This is my chance to follow my dream and I know what it means to actually be here right now. I didn’t win last time and I feel like I have found my voice. This is my chance to prove I am a champion.”
Judge Howie Mandel told her she was a “champion of life” while Heidi Klum added that she looked beautiful and “sounded beautiful.” Mel B told her how much she loved her performance and her, but Simon Cowell drew an auditorium of boos with what he said.
“I’m going to be honest with you. I didn’t really like it that much,” he said.
Then he shouted amongst the boos, “I actually loved it!”
Cowell then reached over and smashed the coveted Golden Buzzer, causing Okwuchi to burst into tears. She looked at her mother, who bowed her head and wiped her tears, also overcome with emotion.
“My one regret was I wasn’t able to give her the Golden Buzzer. You want to know what a champion is? This is a champion,” Cowell said to Okwuchi.
Okwuchi now heads to the finals where she will compete against the likes of Susan Boyle and Angelica Hale. America’s Got Talent: The Champions airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.