America's Got Talent Finalists Share Their Most Memorable Moments of Season 17 Ahead of the Finale

·11 min read
Drake Milligan and Sara James attend a "America's Got Talent"
Drake Milligan and Sara James attend a "America's Got Talent"

David Livingston/Getty AGT finalists Drake Milligan and Sara James

Fans are just hours away from the season 17 finale of America's Got Talent, and with a lineup packed with dancers, musicians, magicians, and even a ventriloquist, it's anyone's guess as to which of these standout performers will walk away with the grand million-dollar prize.

Ahead of the season's conclusion, PEOPLE spoke with all 11 finalists to find out what has been the most memorable moment of the AGT experience.

The performers also talk about how much being on the reality show has meant to them, and of course, how they plan to celebrate if they are crowned the winner.

Sara James

Sara James
Sara James

Trae Patton/NBC/Getty

The teen Polish singer blew the judges away with during her audition with a rendition of Billie Eilish's "Lovely," leading judge Simon Cowell to use his Golden Buzzer on the 14-year-old. James calls the experience "a dream come true" and says it has been packed with "crazy" moments.

"Just performing and showing myself to America and the whole world, that's the craziest thing," she exclaims to PEOPLE. "The fact that Simon Cowell give me the opportunity, I'm his Golden Buzzer, I can't believe it. I'm just so honored to sing on his stage and that's just so wonderful."

While she adds that winning would be "wonderful," she hasn't had a moment to think about what she would do with the winnings.

"The only thing I care about is if the judges are proud and people are proud," she admits. "If I won, that would be wonderful, but I'm chilling."

RELATED: From Magicians and Singers to a Pole Dancer! Meet the Season 17 Finalists of America's Got Talent

Avery Dixon

Avery Dixon
Avery Dixon

Casey Durkin/NBC/Getty

The saxophonist was the season's first Golden Buzzer recipient, thanks to host Terry Crews, and has brought the audience to their feet with his versions of classics like Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody." The 21-year-old Atlanta native says he has most enjoyed "meeting the other talent," noting that it really brought the entire experience "home for me."

"You Google your competition and they're all huge, so I was starstruck coming in, and they welcomed me with open arms," he tells PEOPLE, adding that being on the reality competition series means so much to him because he "grew up watching the show."

"I didn't ever think I was ever good enough to audition, and my first audition, I still didn't think I was good enough until I got the Golden Buzzer," he confesses. "To make it to finals is a projection beyond anything I could dream."

If we wins, Dixon's plan is to entertain the masses in Las Vegas while also inspiring the youth in his hometown. "I actually have a school I'm going to be speaking at when I go back... I want to go back as a champion and go speak to those kids."

Drake Milligan

Drake Milligan
Drake Milligan

Trae Patton/NBC/Getty

The 24-year-old country singer quickly became a fan favorite with a crooning style that shot his original song "Sounds Like Something I'd Do" to the top of the iTunes Country chart after his audition. Milligan tells PEOPLE that he would use the $1 million prize money towards creating an incredible live experience for his fans.

"Being on the road is expensive and there's a lot of gear and a lot of travel expenses," he notes. "We're in a van and we've got a trailer full of gear, and we need more of it always, so the million dollars would really help to kind of facilitate more stuff on the road and a bigger production."

Regardless of whether or not he scores the winner's title, Milligan already believes his experience on AGT has "changed everything" for his career.

"I've been in Nashville the last five years writing and cutting a record and it's been hard, man," he admits. "It's hard to get people to show up to shows and get on the radio and it's been a tough kind of climb-up, but AGT has allowed me that opportunity to get in front of millions of people and break the seal a little bit and break the mold and have the opportunity to sing for a lot of people and get my music out there," he says.

RELATED: AGT Breakout Drake Milligan Admits He Was 'Worried' About Finale Song as He's Named 'the One to Beat'

Chapel Hart

Chapel Hart
Chapel Hart

Casey Durkin/NBC/Getty

Sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle became an overnight sensation thanks to their audition performance of original song "You Can Have Him Jolene," snagging them the judges' group Golden Buzzer and a shoutout from Dolly Parton.

The country music trio still call that Buzzer moment "one they'll never forget," with Danica adding that it was "the first moment of validation for us that we're good enough, you know, and that I think that that moment can never be taken back."

Trea says doing the show meant "the entire world got a chance to hear us, got a chance to jam along with us, and the world liked it."

If they are named the winners, the singing group plans to "take the last three shows that America got a chance to see and just skyrocket them in every state, every city around the world."

"We are planning to just go sprinkle that Chapel Hart love and happiness and joy all over the world," notes Danica, adding that they also want to focus on bringing music back to schools. "We feel that's so important and if we win that million dollars, I don't know how we're going to reach every school in the nation with a million dollars, but we're going to try."

Yu Hojin

Yu Hojin
Yu Hojin

Casey Durkin/NBC via Getty

The South Korean magician has stunned the judges and audiences alike with his run of emotion-packed illusions. He even managed to win over Cowell, who initially gave him a no during his audition.

He called his finale performance his hit most notable moment to date, which saw him perform, as Vergara commented during the episode, "30 tricks in three minutes."

"I made this act for two years, only for America's Got Talent, and I didn't know if it would work or not, but I guess it worked," he tells PEOPLE, explaining that the show represents a "challenge" to him, and he was more than up for the task. "[A] challenge makes you stronger and it opened up lots of chances."

If finale night goes his way, the first thing he plans to do is "call my mom and say, 'Hey, I made it,'" before eventually living his dream of having his own show in Las Vegas.

Nicolas Ribs

Nicolas RIBS
Nicolas RIBS

Casey Durkin/NBC/Getty

The competition's second magician, hailing from France, has continuously impressed the judges with his original take on illusions using an assortment of digital technology.

"I am very happy to share my magic to America," he tells PEOPLE of his tricks, which have often seen two-dimensional objects become three-dimensional through the use of a screen. "America is amazing and American people love magic."

Ribs adds that "it's an honor" to be part of the competition and he already has his plans lined up, should a win be in his future. "If I win, I drink," he jokes. "I drink one night and after that, I would like to have a show in Las Vegas."

Mike E. Winfield

Mike E. Winfield
Mike E. Winfield

Casey Durkin/NBC/Getty

The Baltimore comedian is the sole funnyman to make it to the finale, impressing the judges so much with his past performances that Howie Mandel offered him an opening gig at his upcoming comedy show.

"Howie offering me a gig live on air is quite memorable because I have work after this no matter what, so that doesn't hurt," Winfield tells PEOPLE. "You do this and you don't know what's going to happen, but you might end up touring with Howie and end up on a private jet somewhere - I'm fine with that!"

He says that doing AGT has given him "access to more fans" and "opened the door for so many fans that are really receptive," which has been a longtime goal for the standup. "They've been already so supportive online and we'll see if it equates to them coming out the live shows. It's been great."

If he does end up snagging the million dollar prizes, he jokes that he's not going to be in any rush to spend it. "I'm going to catch the milli and throw it in my pocket and just kind of walk around," he says with a laugh. "When you have it, you don't have to buy anything, it's just kind of knowing you have it."

Kristy Sellars

Kristy Sellars
Kristy Sellars

Casey Durkin/NBC/Getty

The Australian performer has received numerous standing ovations for her pole dancing routines, that often combine acrobatics with immersive animation and technology. She dedicated her finale performance to her daughter, who was in the audience to experience the special moment in person.

"The performance was special to me... and I did really well, so I'm really happy about that," she tells PEOPLE, revealing that she "couldn't have hoped for a better experience" than AGT to bring her creative ideas to life "on the biggest stage in the world."

"To have the reaction that I've had is just such a big compliment," Sellars gushes. "The reaction has just blown up already and so positive, so it's just icing on the cake."

Win or lose, her immediate plan is to "have a day off" after all the work she's put her body through for the competition. However, she reveals she has "the most incredible experience planned for a Vegas show" if she is crowned. "I really want that to come to fruition because I think an immersive experience for the whole family that just takes you on a magical adventure would just be so cool."

Celia Muñoz

Celia Muñoz
Celia Muñoz

Trae Patton/NBC/Getty

The Spanish-born ventriloquist nearly didn't make it to finale night, returning to the competition after being eliminated thanks to the AGT Save on Sept. 7. Her mix of opera singing and comedic voice-throwing regularly impressed the judges and Muñoz says her finale performance was her biggest moment to date.

"I closed my eyes and I was feeling the audience," she recalls. "Then they say 5, 4, 3, when they begin to count, when it's going to be your moment, and I said, 'Okay, I'm here on AGT on the finals, the whole world is watching.' It was this kind of adrenaline effect in my life."

She notes that being on the show "means so much" to her and she still thinks it's "crazy" that she has made it as far as she has. And if she wins, she "will try to do a really good show that the whole world can come and see."

Metaphysic

Metaphysic attends a "America's Got Talent"
Metaphysic attends a "America's Got Talent"

David Livingston/Getty

The artificial intelligence (AI) group sparked resounding laughter with their finale performance that saw them use their deep fake technology to create an on-stage musical collaboration between Cowell, Heidi Klum and Sofía Vergara with the late Elvis Presley.

The group shares with PEOPLE that "the first time we saw people react in the audition" was their most notable moment thus far. "We realized, 'Wow, people are here for this,' and that was a magical moment," they say, adding that doing the show has only heightened their "appreciation for what we do to be able to show the combination of the technology with entertainment."

"We do an amazing performance and it goes viral and the crowd is there and we can feel and see the impact that we're making every two weeks," they continue. "That's pretty incredible for a team of people working really hard."

If they win, their initial plan is to take a nap, but then get right back to focusing on the work. "We're working on some fantastic projects, some really interesting technology to help empower individuals to become their own hyperreal selves in the metaverse and beyond," they explain. "It's a marathon, not a sprint, and we're at the beginning."

The Mayyas

Mayyas
Mayyas

Casey Durkin/NBC/Getty The Mayyas

The Lebanese female dance troupe immediately caught the judges' attention, with Vergara awarding them with her Golden Buzzer. And as the group's founder, Nadim Cherfan, tells PEOPLE, they couldn't feel more "proud of ourselves" for all they have accomplished up to this point.

"Every moment of this experience was really memorable, from the Golden Buzzer to the semifinals to now the finals," he says. "It's not about the title anymore. It's about a huge bigger message for our people to make them believe in themselves and to give hope to our country who is going into a dark time."

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Fans will find out who is crowned the winner of America's Got Talent when the season 17 finale airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.