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Maui’s Lily Meola advances with golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent

Singer-songwriter secures spot in quarterfinals in August

Maui-born singer-songwriter Lily Meola is showered in confetti after earning a “golden buzzer” from judge Heidi Klum during her audition for America’s Got Talent on NBC. Each judge gets one chance to use a golden buzzer on a contestant of their choice that automatically advances them to the next round. Meola performed her original song “Daydream,” written during a time of her life when “things were really beautiful” before her mom was diagnosed with cancer and died. The episode was filmed earlier this year and aired on Tuesday evening, the first time that Meola herself saw the footage. TRAE PATTON / NBC photos

Competing for America’s Got Talent on NBC, Maui-born singer-songwriter Lily Meola was stunned when she realized her performance of her original song “Daydream,” earned a golden buzzer from judge Heidi Klum.

“It was pretty surreal and obviously emotional,” Meola said Tuesday evening after the pre-taped audition aired for the first time. “Singing while crying is definitely hard. I was singing with a lump in my throat, thinking, this isn’t going well. I was extremely surprised. It was pretty magical. I am so grateful. I feel really lucky.”

Prior to her performance, Meola, 27, explained to the judges that she had composed the song during a time in her life when “things were really beautiful, and I was essentially living my daydream.” Then “my life flipped upside down,” as she revealed her mother, Nancy Herschler Meola, was diagnosed with cancer, and she became her mom’s full-time caretaker and subsequently lost a record deal.

“I think maybe it was a bit of a blessing because it gave me some extra time to really be there for her,” Meola continued, before revealing her mother had since passed away. “She was my biggest cheerleader. She was very adamant about me keeping my dreams intact.”

When judge Simon Cowell inquired whether she was able to continue with the audition, Meola responded, “I don’t know if I can make it through a song without crying.”

Lily Meola (center) poses for a photo with judge Heidi Klum (left), who awarded her the golden buzzer, and host Terry Crews.

Meola’s brilliant performance was greeted with a rapturous audience response, including a standing ovation from all four judges.

“There is something special about you,” Cowell announced.

“I’m speechless,” said Klum, moved to tears. “Just everything about you, you just light up. I see a light around you. Immediately, I fell in love with you. I really really like you, so I’m going to push this golden buzzer for you.”

During auditions, each of the judges gets one chance to use a golden buzzer on the contestant of their choice, which automatically advances the person to the next round of competition, according to NBC.

Meola’s golden buzzer performance earned international headlines, with outlets like the UK’s Daily Express proclaiming “viewers left in tears after emotional Golden Buzzer performance.” Huffpost noted: “Lily Meola Sings One Of The Best Original Songs Ever On America’s Got Talent,” and Newsweek reported: “Audiences watching at home have been obsessed with her jaw-dropping performance since it aired on Tuesday’s show.”

While the performance was filmed around a month and a half ago, Meola reported she wasn’t able to see any of the footage until Tuesday.

“I was pretty nervous. It’s surreal,” she said.

Born and raised on Maui, Meola’s famous fans include country legend Willie Nelson, who invited her to sing on his acclaimed album “To All the Girls” in 2013. “I’ve been watching Lily since she was young becoming a talented singer,” Nelson reported in a 2015 Maui News interview. “Every time I hear her, she’s better.” Nelson became a fan hearing her sing at Paia’s Cafe des Amis.

Now Meola will automatically go through to the quarterfinals in August.

“When you get the golden buzzer you go straight to the quarterfinals, and that will be live from Pasadena,” she explained. “Then it will be will up to America to vote for me.”

Meola’s America’s Got Talent audition has already received more than 2 million YouTube views.

She plans to release some new music before the August live show, and in September she will return to Maui for a show at Da Playground in Maalaea.

“The possibilities are endless at this point,” she said. “I’m really excited for the future.”

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