Detroit Youth Choir ready to surprise on 'America's Got Talent All-Stars'

·5 min read

The Detroit Youth Choir hasn’t stopped singing since its second-place 2019 finish on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” In the three years since then, it has recorded several songs that speak to important national issues, released a couple of albums and filmed an upcoming Disney+ reality series.

What’s next on the choral group’s packed agenda? Trying to turn that silver into gold by winning “America’s Got Talent: All Stars,” which debuts Jan. 2.

This spinoff of the regular reality competition will feature 60 former acts that stood out either by winning the top prize or stealing the hearts of viewers. Each week, 10 acts will perform, but only two of them will advance to the finals: one through the show’s golden buzzer (the seal of approval wielded by judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel and host Terry Crews), and one through fan votes.

The Detroit Youth Choir will be up against some of the most popular contestants of the past 16 years, including ventriloquist and 2007 winner Terry Fator, the 2022 winner of “Britain’s Got Talent,” comedian Axel Blake, and the winner in 2019, Kodi Lee, an autistic and blind singer-songwriter.

More:'Bloody fantastic': Detroit Youth Choir wows again on 'AGT'

Related:Detroit Youth Choir docuseries finds home at Disney+ streaming site: What to expect

About 37 members of the Detroit Youth Choir traveled to the Los Angeles area in October to tape the series, according to DYC artistic director Anthony White. He says it was a great — and new — experience for the kids, most of whom didn't participate in the 2019 "AGT" performances.

White predicts that “AGT: All-Stars” might be more appealing than even the DYC’s original season. “I think this time around it’s a little more exciting, a little better, if you ask me,” he says.

The Detroit Youth Choir onstage at 'America's Got Talent: All-Stars'
The Detroit Youth Choir onstage at 'America's Got Talent: All-Stars'

Although he is sworn to secrecy about the details of what happens, he does hint, “Detroit has a big surprise coming with our performance.” Hmm, could it be a win? A cameo appearance by Diana Ross? Football practice with former Lion and current L.A. Ram Matt Stafford? You’ll have to watch to find out.

For White and the nonprofit choir (which won’t appear in the first episode), "AGT: All-Stars” is more than another chance to be seen by 6 million or so viewers. It signals the group's determination to keep pursuing new opportunities.

“That’s basically my biggest call to the city. It’s never forget the Detroit Youth Choir. We’re always doing things. We’re always traveling. We’re always putting out music,” says White.

And always evolving, too. Since its “AGT” days, the choir has continued to perform as a large ensemble of more than 100 singers ages 8 to 18. But now there are smaller choirs within the main one, an idea that helped accommodate COVID-19 safety measures and is useful for handling the rising number of members and invitations to perform.

Three mini-choirs named Limelight, Center Stage and Primetime operate as sort of freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams in terms of the singers’ abilities and experience level. The Primetime choir is the one that appears on “AGT: All-Stars.”

At a 2019 celebration for DYC held at Detroit's Campus Martius Park, the group received a $1 million endowment created by several local foundations. Since the funding translates to small contributions every year, White stresses that the choir still needs donations and grants to cover things like a college readiness program and the lease for its space on the old Marygrove College campus.

When the pandemic arrived in 2020, White says he was adamant about not shutting down the choir, so he turned temporarily to virtual options.

“I’m the type of director that never stops and I won’t stop for our young people," White says. "I’m constantly on the phone, every day, talking about our young people in our choir, because they’re the reason why I get up every morning.”

Indeed, there has been no slowing down for the last two years. In 2020, in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd, the young singers recorded the Oscar-winning song "Glory" (from 2014's "Selma) as a call for racial justice. Their version earned praise from one of the song's co-writers, John Legend, who tweeted, "Beautiful. Powerful. Thank you.”

Also in 2020, DYC was asked by famed producer Jermaine Dupri to be on the recording of his song “Change,” which also included big names like Common, Kirk Franklin and Anthony Hamilton. Dupri’s powerful anthem was about the need to represent the change you seek.

Two years later, DYC spoke out again musically. In 2022, it addressed the need to protect schools and communities from the tragedy of gun violence with its version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine," the chart-topping hit by Guns N' Roses.

The recording and accompanying video came in the wake of mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois on July 4; Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, on May 24; and Oxford, Michigan, Nov. 30

White says such projects mean a lot to choir members.

“Our kids are like, ‘Wow, we’re talking about social injustice. We’re talking about things that affect us in everyday life, through music.' Before we even went to ‘America’s Got Talent,’ I said if we’re able to change people’s lives through music, let’s do it then. Instead of talking about it, let’s do it.”

A scene from the video for the Detroit Youth Choir's recording of "Sweet Child O' Mine," which the group hopes draws attention to the need for solutions to gun violence and school shootings.
A scene from the video for the Detroit Youth Choir's recording of "Sweet Child O' Mine," which the group hopes draws attention to the need for solutions to gun violence and school shootings.

Last year, DYC marked its 25th anniversary with a gala at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. This year, the choral group released its second album “Rockspell,” which followed a 2020 holiday album.

And “All-Stars” isn't the only television exposure on the way. Disney+ announced in early 2021 that it would be the home of “Choir,” an unscripted series about DYC with an uplifting theme. The project has finished production and should air sometime in mid-2023, according to White.

It’s more proof that DYC would rather ride the wave of its momentum than stand still. Says White, “The first wave was 2019. So the second wave is 2023. I can’t wait for that!”

The Detroit Youth Choir will hold auditions from noon to 5 p.m., Jan. 7 at the Marygrove College Conservancy for youths 8 to 18. Those interested must send a pre-audition tape to by Jan. 4. More details at

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Youth Choir competing on 'America's Got Talent All-Stars'