REDDING, Calif.—Simpson University alumnus and Stockton native Brandon Leake took home the winner’s title and $1 million prize on season 15 of “America’s Got Talent.”
Leake, 27, made history as the show’s first spoken word poet, delivering moving pieces about his deceased sister, his estrangement with his father, and his mother’s fear of losing her son in the climate of recent deaths of Black men and women. His final piece was a prayer and poem for his baby daughter.
Show judge Howie Mandel advanced Leake from the audition round to the live shows with a “Golden Buzzer” award after Leake delivered a stirring poem about the loss of his sister.
“Brandon took us through the journey of humanity. And this is what’s missing right now: understanding, humanity and justice,” Mandel is quoted as saying in a USA Today news article. “This has been a hard time for all of us, but I thought that the win and the vote for him has given me and the world hope. I’m so thrilled America made this vote and listened to their hearts and their minds, especially on a day like today with what’s going on in the world. I hope that he is the light.”
Leake graduated from Simpson University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. While at Simpson, he initially played basketball, then turned to writing. In 2012 he started Called to Move – CTM on campus with a small group of artists and began performing at open mic nights on campus.
When the group first performed, about 10 to 15 people showed up to watch. By the time Leake graduated, several hundred people were attending shows, and Called to Move was invited to do its own chapel service.
Leake is also one of the founders of “Hope is Alive! Open Mic” events, often hosted at Old City Hall in Redding and held to raise awareness about mental health struggles, substance use disorders, and suicide loss. The Shasta County Arts Council noted Leake’s role in a congratulatory Facebook post.
After graduating, Leake has worked as an educator and speaker and led spoken word workshops. His debut album, titled “In My Thoughts,” lead to him traveling across the U.S. to perform at elementary and high schools, colleges, youth conferences, and poetry slams. He got married in 2017; and he and his wife had a baby girl in late February.
Leake chronicled his “America’s Got Talent” journey on his Instagram account (@Brandon_Leake_CTM), where he offered these thoughts two days after his victory:
“Wow … what a journey, ya’ll. I must honestly tell ya’ll that I’m so humbled to be the winner of ya’ll choosing … this is OUR WIN! … Thank you to my wonderful and beautiful wife who played the role of a superwoman taking care of our child and a young puppy for a whole month in my absence. … And last but certainly not least, THANK YOU, GOD! I am but a mere man, redeemed by Christ and now given an opportunity to show the world what I got! This is an answered prayer beyond belief and I’m so grateful, so so grateful!”
Simpson University, a Christian university founded in 1921, moved to Redding 31 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 20 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated more than 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a No. 7-ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. Simpson University is recognized nationally as one of U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 Regional Universities West. The university is launching new programs in digital media, computer information systems, and engineering, and recently added athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team ranked No. 1 in California and No. 26 in the nation. The university has a highly ranked Veterans Success Center and partnership with the Army National Guard. Simpson University contributes an estimated $50 million annually to Redding’s economy. It offers aggressive scholarships and is working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements. Learn more about Simpson University at simpsonu.edu.