What do a 12-year-old pianist and a 22-year-old unicyclist have in common? They’ve got talent. Tonight they get their shot on "America’s Got Talent"
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The camera zooms in on a pianist’s hand, performing a self-composed medley on one of the America’s best-known television stages: “America’s Got Talent.” Soon, it’s revealed the musician is a child, Jacob Velazquez of Pembroke Pines. Even Simon Cowell is smiling.
In another preview clip, Wesley Williams of Sunrise wobbles dangerously on top of a unicycle that is many feet off the ground. Some of the judges look away as he dips forward but then, he pulls out three knives.
These two Broward County residents will be featured on Tuesday night’s episode of “America’s Got Talent,” a highly-rated variety show with many international spin-offs. The winner of the show receives a prize of $1 million. “America’s Got Talent” airs at 8 pm on WTVJ-Ch. 6, WPTV-Ch. 5.
“America’s Got Talent” often delves into the back stories of its contestants. For 12-year-old Jacob Velazquez, it’s shown that he has Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS), a form of autism. He uses his music as not only a way to express his emotions, but to inspire America.
“Just because you have a diagnosis or disability, doesn’t mean we’re not capable of great things,” Jacob said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “If you have a disability it just means you are unique, different, cool, awesome.”
His mother, Tina Velazquez, remembers the first time she heard him play. His father is a pianist and was performing an improvised piece in front of 3-year-old Jacob. The next day, she heard the same song playing from the piano, but Tina’s husband was at work.
Her first thought was, did my husband come home early?
“I saw little Jacob there, and I was like, that’s you?” Tina said. “He was very delayed with speech and just smiled. Then he did it again.”
Tina and her husband began looking for a piano teacher. But no one wanted to work with him, whether they thought a 3-year-old wouldn’t be able to pay attention or that his hands were too small. Once Jacob turned 4, they found him a teacher in Weston.
His newfound gift came after three years of hardships. When Jacob was a month old, his parents found him choking and turning purple. The doctor diagnosed him with gastroesophageal reflux disease, which could cause him to choke on his own reflux. He went to therapy for years to learn how to chew and swallow food, followed by speech and occupational therapy.
Tina still worries about some of his struggles — fine motor skills such as flossing his teeth. But one day, watching her son practice his runs on the piano, she knew everything was going to be OK.
“It occurred to me maybe we had been putting our focus in the wrong place,” Tina said. “We were focusing too much on his diagnosis and not enough on his ability. We don’t worry about his future anymore.”
Now, Jacob is home schooled and composes his own pieces, including the one he performed on “America’s Got Talent.”
“When I was writing my piece with my dad I was literally thinking about ‘AGT’ the whole time,” Jacob said. “I knew I was going to perform it. I thought how can I make it perfect?”
Jacob will be watching the episode Tuesday night from his home in Pembroke Pines.
“I’m probably gonna be jumping around the whole house watching,” Jacob said. “I hope a lot of people from Miami watch tonight.”
Wesley William’s story also began in South Florida, in Weston, where he was born and raised.
Williams, 22, received a unicycle as a gift after pointing them out in mailed-in toy catalogs. He learned to ride right away.
“My mom said, ‘What are we going to do with this kid?‘ ” Williams said in a phone interview Tuesday.
By the time Williams was 8 he was performing at birthday parties. By the time he was 13, instead of playing in recreational leagues, he had his weekends booked.
Since then, he has traveled the world performing, from Russia to New York.
Williams said the opportunity to audition for “America’s Got Talent” could not have come at a better time. His contract to perform for Cirque du Soleil in Germany, which he said was his dream gig, had been canceled since the company filed for bankruptcy. On the day Williams was supposed to perform at the Miami-Dade County Fair, which was canceled due to the pandemic, he received a call to fly out to California that day for auditions.
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Soon, he found himself on the “America’s Got Talent” stage having to almost improvise his routine.
“All the elements I had planned on including I wasn’t able to do,” Williams said. “I couldn’t involve the host too much and I couldn’t get too close to the judges. It was right when the coronavirus was hitting.”
Williams said the virus has affected entertainers the most, who are the first to leave and last to come back. He had to sell his truck and RV and works at a local Chick-fil-A now. For the first time in years, he is living back home with his family in Weston.
“I don’t usually do TV shows because I’m busy working,” Williams said. “But through ‘AGT’ I can be seen. Everyone is home now and everyone is watching.”
Last night, Williams performed a live streamed show. He had déjà vu as he performed on the street he grew up in. His neighbors came outside to watch and support him, the first time he’s performed since “America’s Got Talent.”
“I’ve traveled to New York to Utah to California but I don’t think of anywhere else I can live and call home,” Williams said. “South Florida s always been my home.”