AGT Standout Avery Dixon Talks Simon Cowell's 'Unreal' Carrie Underwood Comparison: 'I'm Floating on Air'

·4 min read
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 09: Avery Dixon is seen at the red carpet for "America's Got Talent" Season 17 Live Show at Sheraton Pasadena Hotel on August 09, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 09: Avery Dixon is seen at the red carpet for "America's Got Talent" Season 17 Live Show at Sheraton Pasadena Hotel on August 09, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Frazer Harrison/Getty

America's Got Talent has found its first "superstar" of the season 17 live shows.

Saxophonist Avery Dixon, who previously won host Terry Crews' Golden Buzzer, was the final contestant to hit the stage during the first live show of the NBC series' latest season on Tuesday night.

The 21-year-old brought both the crowd and the judges to their feet with his rousing rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic "Higher Ground."

The performance led Simon Cowell to declare the "same thing he said to Carrie Underwood" when she won the fourth season of American Idol in 2005: "You're going to be a superstar."

"To hear those words from Simon, it's unreal," Dixon told PEOPLE backstage after his show-stopping performance. "It's like, did he really just say that to me? I'm going to go back and replay it over and over and over again."

RELATED: AGT's Terry Crews on Why He Was 'Floored' by His Golden Buzzer-Winning Act: 'Nothing Better'

Dixon received equal amounts of praise from the rest of the judges' panel, who commended the performer for his energetic display.

"I'm still just really floating on air right now because, if you look into the crowd, you can see they're really feeling it right along with me and it's a beautiful thing to ask," he adds.

In Dixon's first audition, the Atlanta, Georgia native revealed that he was born prematurely, weighing only 1 lb. 8oz. This led to a number of medical complications, including a condition that affects his vocal cords. The resulting bullying he experienced growing up is what pushed him to find solace in the saxophone.

"I found a new home," he says of the support he has received from fans online since his acclaimed audition. "They are actually people that have a voice like mine and it's like I've found a new family all over the world."

Dixon's story inspired Crews, 54, to give the musician the coveted Golden Buzzer during the premiere episode — and tonight, the AGT host says he couldn't be "more proud" of his choice.

"I sat right there on the side, giving him all the props, but he didn't need it. He won the whole crowd over," Crews tells PEOPLE backstage. "To watch this man gain the confidence that he has, he's a completely different performer."

Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Terry Crews, Sofia Vergara, Simon Cowell
Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Terry Crews, Sofia Vergara, Simon Cowell

Trae Patton/NBC From left: Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Terry Crews, Sofia Vergara, Simon Cowell

RELATED: Simon Cowell Teases What's to Come on AGT's 'More Exciting' Live Shows: 'There's So Much at Stake'

Crews gives Dixon props for his "vulnerability," which he believes has become a major "asset" for the musician.

"He really just let it all out there and how hard it was to get where he is, and I think that's a wonderful thing," he says. "I think it's beautiful, t's transparent, it's vulnerable, and it's lovable. Everybody loves Avery Dixon."

The other judges also couldn't be more thrilled to see a transformation in Dixon since his audition.

"The type of energy he had today, the confidence, it was amazing," Sofía Vergara tells PEOPLE. "One of my favorite things to see as a judge is how they they transform little-by-little in the competition and then you start seeing the star coming up."

"What people did to this poor kid, they broke him so much, but it just shows you can still have that fire in yourself," adds Heidi Klum. "He is now on the biggest stage in the world and we all love him. You have to believe in yourself and go for your goals."

AMERICA'S GOT TALENT -- “Auditions” -- Pictured: Avery Dixon -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)
AMERICA'S GOT TALENT -- “Auditions” -- Pictured: Avery Dixon -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Trae Patton/NBC Avery Dixon

"He was a new, shining human being on a different level than he was at the audition," Howie Mandel chimes in. "The way he performed, the way he interacted with the audience, the way he interacted with us... I think Avery is a different person today than he was when he first came to the show."

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Dixon hopes his story "inspires" and "comforts" people who have gone through similar experiences, and that his work can "maybe even heal somebody."

"When you're opening up at first, it's really scary and you don't know how it will be received," Dixon notes. "But it was an overwhelming amount of love from people I've never met, and who I look forward to meeting."

Fans will find out if Dixon is one of two viewer-voted contestants to move onto the season 17 finale when the AGT results show airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.