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Interview:
Detroit Youth Choir director's ready to win it all on "AGT"
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

» See more SOUND CHECK

The hottest music act currently in Detroit does not record for Motown, doesn't have a hit record on the chart and hasn't done a multi-night stand at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.



The Detroit Youth Choir has charmed the city, and much of the country, storm with its energetic and effervescent performances as part of Season 14 of NBC's "America's Got Talent." Granted the Golden Buzzer by an emotional host (and Flint native) Terry Crews, the 62-member troupe finds itself in the finals of the show, competing for a $1 million prize on Tuesday, Sept. 17 -- and has gotten plenty of love from even hard-to-please "America's Got Talent" judge Simon Cowell.



After being voted into the finals, we caught up to Anthony White, DYC's director since 2001, who gave us a rundown of how he and his charges are faring out in Los Angeles....



First things first; Can the DYC win the whole thing? "Let's put it like this," White, 40, says by phone. "We feel like the 2004 Pistons with Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, how there weren't any superstars on that team. We don't have any superstars in our choir. Everybody is on the same level. We're a team, and we feel like we can bring the championship home. We just want the city of Detroit behind us 100 percent. We need those votes."



This is actually the second DYC choir White has taken into "America's Got Talent." The troupe auditioned during 2017 in Cincinnati and wasn't chosen but tried again when auditions were held earlier this year at Cobo Hall. "That's when the 'AGT' staff came alive and really embraced our organization," White recalls. "They really found out these kids can really sing and they can really perform. They can do anything and everything they put their minds to, so it wasn't really a big surprise when they picked us to do what we're doing now."







White -- who's 10-year-old daughter Syel is part of the DYC -- says the choir only lost a half-dozen members from the 2017 ensemble. "A few years ago we had the best choir, possibly, in the city of Detroit and we did not make the cut with 'America's Got Talent,'" White notes. "The choir that everybody sees now is the choir I personally built the next year, after we didn't make it. So the world is seeing a true product of the city of Detroit, true-hearted kids that really believe in hard work and dedication. I believe this is the best choir that our organization has had in our 23-year history."



According to White, the song choices, which last week included Panic! At the Disco's "High Hopes," "comes from a bunch of collaborative minds," including the DYC team in conjunction with the "AGT" production staff. "(The DYC) comes up with its own concepts and everything, but the creative staff from 'AGT' is the one that puts the cherry on top of the sundae -- the pyrotechnics, the camera angles. I don't know anything about camera angels and things like that. But ('AGT') has some of the best camera people I've ever met in my life, and they take great care of us."



One of the nicer off-camera experiences the DYC has had in Los Angeles was attending the ceremony dedicating Detroit singing great Jackie Wilson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 4. "That was an eye-opening experience for our young people because one day I believe their stars could be on the Walk of Fame," White says. "Jackie Wilson's daughter actually called me and said, 'Mr. White, can I come over to the hotel and hear the kids sing?' We have a rendition of 'Higher and Higher' that her father did, and we sang it for her live and she was just moved to tears."



White says that the DYC has "a lot of mixed feelings" as it nears the end of its AGT run. "It's bittersweet because we'll be coming home. We'll vibe living L.A., and this has been our home for the last three or four weeks. So now we'll be coming back to the D and just being with our families and being in our homes, things like that. It's a bittersweet ending."



The DYC has, in fact, bonded with its fellow competitors, according to White. "Lemme tell you, every contestant on the show is actually our brother and sister. When each one of them gets eliminated, we actually feel sad, like, 'Man, I can't see my friend anymore.' We're all backstage singing, dancing, talking, sharing stories. I'm looking at them like they're movie stars and they're looking at me like I'm a movie star. And I know our choir and each one of our kids has made an impression on each and every one of the contestants."



After moving on to the finals the DYC had to cancel a planned performance during halftime of the Detroit Lions' home opener on Sunday, Sept. 15. But the group will be performing during the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade as well as at the Hob Nobble Gobble fundraiser. "Just to be thought of in this manner is tremendous," White says. "Remember, the Detroit Youth Choir was a very low-key organization in the city of Detroit before this. Right now we're the face of choirs around the United States. We are loving this."



The "America's Got Talent" finals air at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, on NBC (WDIV, Channel 4), with results announced the following night. For more information on the Detroit Youth Choir, visit detroityouthchoir.org.

Web Site: www.detroityouthchoir.org

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