When Amanda Mena took the stage during Monday’s America’s Got Talent, the moment meant a lot more for the young singer than simply competing on a reality series — it meant proving to herself that she could do something amazing.
“When I was younger, I had a hard time showing who I was. I was afraid, I was ashamed to express myself the way that I wanted to,” the 15-year-old singer told ET’s Denny Directo on Tuesday. “So, definitely, going up on that stage it was a goal for me. I was able to tell all the bullies, ‘I can do it. I can.'”
On Tuesday’s new episode of AGT, Mena wowed the judges with her amazing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” that brought the audience to their feet.
Her powerful performance was a beautiful culmination of her life’s passion, and Mena opened up about her connection to music as a form of self-expression.
“Music was always there for me when I was little,” she shared. “I loved listening to people like Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, I just thought they were powerful woman role models. So in times like that where I didn’t feel so amazing about myself, I would just look to them and kind of be like, ‘One day, I want to be like them and follow that example.'”
Before auditioning, Mena told the judges that she moved to the U.S from the Dominican Republic when she was 4 and didn’t speak English, which made her the target of bullies. However, music helped her escape and gave her purpose.
Mena certainly showed just how vocally powerful and self-possessed she’d become when she belted out her flawless performance — which was met with a round of acclaim and even moved Mel B to slam the Golden Buzzer.
“I really couldn’t believe it,” Mena told ET, recalling the experience. “I kind of blacked [out] for a second. I was like, ‘What is happening? Is this real life?’ I cherish that moment a lot.”
Mena said that getting the Golden Buzzer from Mel B, especially, meant a lot, because of their mutual love for music.
“It feels awesome,” Mena shared. “I admire Mel B, and I think just being her Golden Buzzer, it kind of connects me to her more. So it’s kind of awesome.”
Mel B even spoke with Mena back stage, where she shared some heartwarming encouragement.
“She was just talking to me and saying, ‘You are so powerful for your age.’ I really took that and I really appreciate that because I have been through a lot of things and just to hear that from her it felt good,” Mena recalled.
Now that she’s got the Golden Buzzer, Mena said she’d actually say “thank you” to those who bullied her as a kid, “because they taught me a lot.”
“I can learn a lot from the people that don’t like me so much, and from that I can get stronger,” she explained.
On Tuesday’s episode, Mena’s mind-blowing performance was met with universal acclaim from the judges, including Simon Cowell, who said she had “genuinely natural soul,” and added, “This is an audition we’re gonna remember for a long time.”
However, it was clearly Mel B who was most moved by the audition.
“That was just incredible… I love you, I love your voice, and this is what I’m gonna say to all those bullies,” Mel B said, as she stood and slammed the Golden Buzzer. A rain of shimmering confetti fell on the young singer and she was brought to tears and hugged Mel B and her mom on stage.
“There’s a lot of girls that don’t feel good about themselves and don’t feel beautiful,” Mena shared with ET. “I want to put in my music things that inspire them to believe that they are amazing… You just have to believe in yourself and have people that love you around you and positive people. Just grow yourself to be an amazing person.”
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.