Listen to the ‘America's Got Talent’ Performer Simon Cowell Compared to Carrie Underwood

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Life hasn’t been easy for 21-year-old Avery Dixon, who was born premature at 1-pound 8-ounces and, as a result, has had to deal with physical issues that babies that are carried to term don’t face, such as knots on his forehead and issues with his vocal cords.

As a result of his differences, the native Atlantan has experienced a great deal of bullying in school, which turned him to music, through which he found solace in playing the saxophone and making beautiful melodies, which he has since brought to America’s Got Talent.

Avery was among the 11 acts that performed on Season 17’s first night of Live Shows and he was rewarded for his hard work. After his performance of the Stevie Wonder classic, “Higher Ground,” he got one of the highest compliments possible when judge Simon Cowell told him, “I promise you, Avery, since the time we first met you to now, something’s changed. I’m going to predict something. I said this about Carrie Underwood years and years and years ago on [American Idol], which is, you’re going to be a superstar. I promise you, Avery. I actually believe it’s going to happen, because this was so different. You were great the first time, but this was incredible. Your confidence and your talent, everything is brilliant. I’m so happy for you.”

Another testament to Avery’s talent happened on the premiere night of season 17 of America’s Got Talent when Avery was awarded the first Golden Buzzer of the season by host Terry Crews for his rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding.

Related: Watch the Emotional, Heartfelt Act That Earned Terry Crews's Golden Buzzer on America's Got Talent

Terry told him, “Avery, you touched the heart of every human being in this building right now. I want to tell you, you’ve been bullied all your life, but you tell every bully that you have a big brother named Terry Crews, who has your back, and all those bullies are going to have to watch you succeed.”

This season succeeding on AGT will be more difficult than previously. Fifty-five acts—a bigger number than ever before—will be competing to make it into the finale and they will only get one shot at it as each week 11 acts will compete and only two from each night will move on to the finale.

“My plan to win is to not keep things the same,” Avery told in this exclusive interview. “I will bring them a different show every time they see me so that they know what they’re getting themselves into when they come to my show in Vegas. I want to make it higher, bigger, and better every time. My goal is to give them a precursor to what they’re going to experience at the Avery Dixon Experience.”

Related: It’s an America’s Got Talent First when Howie Mandel Picks His Golden Buzzer!

If he is lucky enough to win the $1 million and the headlining gig at AGT Live in Las Vegas, Avery will touch hearts through more than his music. While he plans to spend some of the money to move his mother and brother into a home where he can practice his music as loud as possible without threat of eviction, he will also use it to give back to the people who helped him survive his premature birth and others born early like he was.

Avery has already founded an organization called GraceNotes and Totes to help distribute preemie and newborn clothes and other supplies to those in need. In fact, he actually made a delivery just prior to his AGT audition.

“It’s so amazing establishing a friendship with the people who bring lives into this world that are like my own,” he said. “The hospital I’m working with is the hospital I was born at. They saved my life and they’re still saving lives, so [if I win the $1 million], a large part of my goal is not just to expand resources, but to get office space and really setup something that I want to do for the rest of my life alongside music.”

Related: Vote Now! America Will Pick The Final Act to Make the America’s Got Talent Live Shows!

In this exclusive interview, Avery also talks about how his mother Lisa and brother Stay lit tricked him into making an audition video for AGT, how he wants to be a positive example to other preemies, his musical influences, the letter he received from President ong>Barack Obama, and more.

How did you come to audition for America’s Got Talent?

At the time, I was actually coming off of leaving college. It was not the greatest time in my life. I felt like I had let somebody down because I didn’t finish school. Growing up I knew I wanted to go to college, but I had two conditions. Either I was going to finish high school and go straight to music, or I’d get accepted into one of my dream schools with a full-ride scholarship. All of those things ended up happening, which I’m really happy about. But the school that gave me a full-ride scholarship was awful and I ended up wanting to quit music. At the time of my audition, I was fulfilling all my contracts, and it was my last hurrah.

And then AGT happened?

Yes. So, my mom was like, “Just shoot this last video.” She didn’t tell me what she was going to do with it. She and my brother had talked in the middle of the night when I was asleep about this whole thing. So, my brother knows I’ll trust anything he says, so if he says do it, it’s OK. So he goes, “Just do this last video, dude, and give it your all. Just do it how you would do it if you were doing a show.” So, I do this video and my mom says, “Oh, yeah, you have a Zoom call for America’s Got Talent.” I’m like, “What?” She’s like, “You know that video you did? We sent that to the show.” I’m like, “No!”

It looks as if she did the right thing because Simon Cowell called you “great” and he said this is your “destiny,” so maybe it is your destiny.

It’s more than destiny. As a believer in Christ—some people call it divine intervention, I just call it the will of God. My grandma actually always says that I’m following in her great grandfather’s [Maxwell Davis] footsteps. It’s actually her dad, it’s my great grandfather. She’s watching all this happen.

Is your grandfather your biggest influence?

He is. If you actually get the chance to look at any of his pictures, we actually hold our hands alike when we’re playing. Even down to when we’re standing and sitting.

Related: Watch the 13-Year-Old Singing Sensation that Wowed Simon Cowell Into Choosing Her for his America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer!

When Terry said “There’s no need to vote,” and you’re standing up on stage, did you know what he was going to do? Did you have an inkling that you were going to get the Golden Buzzer?

No, even down to the moment he’s standing at the table, it still just didn’t click in my head that I would be a Golden Buzzer contestant.

Heidi Klum loved your suit. Are you always such a snazzy dresser?

I actually always have been. Even in school, like uniforms, if I had a riding suit jacket or a pair of shoes or even my bracelet to match something, I would always deviate from the standard dress code and make it formal. I recently learned how to dress down.

You’ve talked about the fact that you picked up the saxophone because you were being bullied at school. When you first picked it up did you have a natural affinity for it? Or was there a learning period?

Before I started playing saxophone, there were a couple of things happening at once. Playing honor band and all state are huge things in the state of Georgia. Especially if you were in the band at school. I have a lot of [family members] that are older than me, so it’s like everybody just happened to either pick up and put down an instrument at the same time. I would be going to all-state concerts, and it was classical music with everybody dressed up in suits with pin-like badges for the certain positions they earned in the band. To me, it was like music was some type of super spy James Bond thing and it just really helped me know that I actually wanted to do something that involved dressing up and [making] music. It made me feel good to see somebody that looked like me actually win awards for doing something outside of sports and band.

And then my grandma told me—we were actually just talking about this the other night, my grandma was talking about how when she first heard me play, she was like, “I knew you had a gift just hearing that first note.” She was like, “They all probably thought I was crazy. They all thought your grandma was crazy.” She said, “He has a gift. I’ve heard him play just one note.”

And it did help me mentally, too, because even though you see all these great things, you still don’t have anything that really solidifies you as really being a musician yet. Because growing up, you’re a band kid and people still teased me, and they still had everything to say about my voice and all that. It’s like having a saxophone with me really helped me just clear my mind and clear away those negative words and those feelings that were attached to them.

<p>Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC</p>

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

You’ve talked about the fact that you were 1-pound 8-ounces when you were born and kids at school called you Hammerhead and you had problems with your vocal cords. Did that all make you stronger?

You feel like it makes you stronger as a kid. When I got to college, I still was bullied. And it was like in college you can’t exactly tell the whole cafeteria to shut up. You can’t think about what everyone’s laughing about. A lot of the time I just assumed they were laughing at me. It was easy to say kids will be kids when they’re kids, but when they’re in college, their excuse was still boys will be boys, but it feels different in a way. It’s like somebody’s basically brushing off your broken heart. I was going through it in college. I would skip meals. I would sit in my room for days until I had either a suite mate or someone come over and say, “Let’s get some food off campus.” It was those small things that really just helped me in a way.

The voting for America’s Got Talent is different this season. They’re putting 55 people into qualifier shows, so you actually have one shot in 55 at winning. If you shouldn’t win, is the dream just to be able to make a career as a musician?

No, it’s so much more. My dream is to be a voice for people like me, the bullied, the broken, and the battered, I’ll call it. My fighting few. I want to be a voice for them so this dream goes way beyond music. It’s a message for the kids that are just like me that are still going through it and for the ones that will go through it.

There are babies that are born just like me. If I can show them that their life won’t be all bad, that’s my goal. My goal is to send a message that goes far beyond any note I can play. I want to help somebody. I don’t just want to be the standard Hollywood musician; I want to be reachable to people. I want to reach somebody and teach somebody and probably bring somebody up that doesn’t have the same opportunities that I do.

Related: Watch the Lebanese Dance Group that Made Sofia Vergara Hit Her America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer!

Who are your musical icons are and maybe who you would like to play with?

The first one that comes to mind is Gerald Albright. There’s also Dave Koz. They have an album together called Summer Horns and that’s how I found all of them. The funny thing about this whole story with Gerald Albright is I actually met him many, many years ago. He was on with a group of other artists, and I didn’t even know he was going to be there. So, it was a surprise to me. It was in October, my birthday was coming up.

You’ve won a few awards. The Tommie Smith Youth Institute Initiative, the Gospel Choice Awards, plus a few others. You also received a letter from President Obama. How did that happen?

OK, so the letter from the president, we had moved from the place where we had grown up at and went to a different county. The landlord actually kept that letter for two years and was looking for an opportunity to give it to us because she saw that it had the United States seal on it and it was a manila envelope. She had actually said, “I have something for you, you had a piece of mail that came.” This was two years after she had received it at our old place.

How did President Obama hear about you?

For a long time, I actually submitted requests to perform at the White House for their Christmas stuff, anything I could. Anywhere there was a request, I signed up to do it. I knew I wanted to meet Barack Obama so it was like “anything I can do to do it, I’m going to do it.” Then he looked at my website. The White House looked at my website.

I’m sure you have that framed, right?

Oh God, yes. The original letter is at my grandma’s house in a frame. It is one of the highlighted achievements of my lifetime, getting a letter from President Barack Obama.

Avery will be performing for his chance to make it to the finale tonight when America’s Got Talent airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

Next, Watch Singer/Songwriter Lily Meola’s Emotional Performance that Made Heidi Klum Hit Her America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer!