Mara Justine, in the run-up to her audition on "America's Got Talent" Sunday evening (a special edition, since it normally airs on Tuesdays), tells us she is 11 years old and wants to be a singer. She says she sings all the time, solo and with her mother. Said mother notes that the her daughter sings so much that her little brother now often tells her to stop. As with many of these video segues, the home audience really doesn't know what to expect when the girl steps out on stage. Rarely is the show mean-spirited, so it is reasonable for viewers to assume that she will at least be good enough to get compliments and encouragement from the judges.
But as Bill King asserts in his June 22 recap of "Show-Stopping Sunday" (a double entendre, as the special airing on Sunday was placed across from ABC's debut of its new interactive reality singing competition "Rising Star") for BuddyTV, "Frontrunner alert."
As soon as she walks out on the stage, Judge Howard Stern says, "Aren't you adorable?"
And if his rhetorical question had been let stand, that would have been fine. A simple "thank you" would have worked. But what Mara Justine said went over even better.
"Thank you," she said with a nervous giggle. "You guys are gorgeous." And as Judge Howard thanked her, she fanned her face, fightin off tears. "I'm going to cry, just right here." She received a sympathetic laugh from the live audience.
At home, America melted. Mara Justine was through to the second round.
But wait... She still had to sing. And Judge Howard wasn't helping.
After admitting he was anxious to hear her sing, he asked if she was nervous, to which she replied that she was "very nervous." Howard being Howard Stern (and who else?) then said, "I don't blame you."
With everyone laughing, the judge who became famous as a straightforward shock jock admitted, "I was going to calm you down, but I'm not going to lie. I'd be nervous, too."
But adorable Mara Justine had nothing to worry about. As soon as she started singing "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls," the judges took note. The audience started cheering, rising to their feet. And when she hit the last line, she belted it out like a Broadway pro.
All four judges gave her a standing ovation. Why? Because it is one thing to be a seasoned pro like Jennifer Holliday and nail the tune on the "Dreamgirls" stage, or even Jennifer Hudson on a mission to get an Oscar in the film "Dreamgirls," but to hear an 11-year-old girl from New Jersey hit the right notes in "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going" -- and with such power --yes, she deserved a standing ovation.
She brought down the house...
Judge Howard summed it up in the critiques, saying, "As a judge, we sit here, the four of us, and we go... 'Ya know, I wonder when it's going to happen -- when we have that 'wow' moment?' We just had it."
The 11-year-old was overwhelmed, her hand over her mouth. "Thank you," she said.
Howard wanted to know how old she was when she learned she could sing like that. Mara told him she's been singing all her life with her mom, so... She left it open-ended, but then Howard asks for mom to step out on stage. Judge Heidi Klum tells Judge Mel B that she now wants to hear mom and daughter sing together. Mel B says she just wants mom's hair.
Mom is in tears and hugs her daughter. Howard, of course, immediately puts her on the spot, "So, Mom, how we going to spend a million dollars?"
"It's good having kids," he says. He wants to know if Mara Justine is her only child, to which Mom lets everyone know she has five children.
"Five?" Mel B interjected, amazed. "And you look like that?"
As adorable as Mara was, Mom was just as attractive. So now the New Jersey family had two rising stars in the family...
But back to the kid...
Judge Heidi told Mara she was "incredible." Mel B said she had set the bar "so high."
Judge Howie Mandel, who had been silent up until then, tossed in, "We know that this moment your life is never going to be the same." And Howie, an avid talker, said instead of him speaking, he wanted to know her thoughts.
Mara and her mother had been hiding half their faces, fighting tears through the comments. She said, "I've always wanted to do this. And this is, I feel, this is it."
Howie said it for everyone when he agreed. "It is it. You are it."
Mara Justine now heads to the next round in a quest for a million-dollar contract and headliner show in Las Vegas.
New episodes of "America's Got Talent" usually airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (EST) on NBC Television. Sunday's edition was a special one-time scheduling move.