There was a tear-jerking moment on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” earlier this season. It came quietly, after Fitchburg’s Lavender Darcangelo, 28, earned a Golden Buzzer from judge Heidi Klum that sent her through to the live-show finale. After confetti rained down. After a crying Darcangelo hugged her dads.
Backstage, Darcangelo observed about her younger self: “I didn’t know, like, what am I here for?”
Darcangelo is blind and on the autism spectrum. At Fitchburg High, substitute teacher Wil Darcangelo changed her life, first by bringing her into an after-school music mentorship program — and later when he and his husband, Jamie, adopted Lavender as an adult.
“She first asked me to adopt her about a month after knowing her. I said, ‘Well, I’m a member of the faculty. That’s not how that works,’ ” Wil said. “But I knew I’d be her mentor for the rest of her life. She was so talented, and yet had challenges where she could so easily be taken advantage of.”
Lavender graduated in 2014. At her adoption ceremony three years later, she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
You might have heard of Darcangelo — she went viral in 2019 for her rendition of “Part of Your World” at an LGBTQ event in Fitchburg, landed on “Good Morning America,” and later, sang the national anthem at a Boston Bruins game. But she was soon overwhelmed by the attention. “I fell into a massive three-year singing burnout,” she said.
But “America’s Got Talent” kept calling, encouraging her to audition. “This year, I finally said yes.”
This season, after she performed Irene Cara’s “Out Here on My Own,” she told judges Sofia Vergara, Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, and Klum that “AGT” is her favorite show “because it’s about being different, and, I don’t know, I’m just not normal.”
But viewer feedback has her reconsidering. “I’m starting to recognize maybe I am normal, that I’m not this vastly different creature out there.”
With her dads beside her, Darcangelo spoke to the Globe by phone ahead of her “AGT” season finale performance Tuesday night at 9 on NBC, when she will compete against 10 other finalists. The winner will be revealed Wednesday.
Q. What made you want to try out for the show?
A. Because I have dreams that go far beyond music. I figured the exposure would give me opportunities to pursue those dreams.
Q. What are your dreams?
A. To create a school where the classes are based off child curiosity. “AGT” is kind of like what I’m imagining the school would be — very diverse. My school would look beyond behavior. I also want to create an adult-sized playground. [Laughs]
Q. What drew you to music?
A. We were singing “God Bless America” — this was either kindergarten or first grade — [and] the music teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey, you sing really well. Would you like to sing in front of the class?” I realized I liked the idea of singing in front of people. I’d pretend the music class was my audience.
Q. You met Wil at Fitchburg High.
A. Somebody in my algebra class said, “Hey, Wil the substitute teacher is running an after-school program called the Tribe. It’s like a mentorship rock band. I’m like, “What? I want to go!” I went up to him and said, “I have perfect pitch. Can I join your band?” [Laughs]
He’s like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And I didn’t go home on the bus that day.
Q. What did you like about it?
A. That music was only a fraction of what Tribe was about. It was the only place where I felt I wasn’t yelled at for my disability, if you will. We called it the Island of Misfit Toys. Like, there was this kid who was selectively mute, and he would hum. Most bands would be like: “Oh, he doesn’t belong because he doesn’t sing.” We were more like: “He has heart.”
Q. You were born blind?
A. Yeah. I also had an autism diagnosis in third grade. [But] because I’m so articulate, I didn’t receive as much autism services — most of my services were about blindness. So some comprehension issues I have weren’t taken into consideration. I’m here to educate people: When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve only met one.
Q. What was it like to get the buzzer from Heidi Klum?
A. I was in shock. I don’t remember much of that night. I was numb. This was something I wanted since I was 4 years old.
Q. You said you felt you weren’t “normal.” Does singing make you feel better about yourself?
A. It does. And also the people who reached out to me about my school idea. The idea struck a chord with the neurodivergent community. I’m actually speaking in October about my school at the Yass Summit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The more I hear that I’m not alone in my opinions about school, the more I’m realizing I am normal.
Q. A lot of your songs seem to have messages: “Part of Your World,” “Out Here on My Own.”
A. Yes! Yup.
Q. You dedicated “I Wanna Know What Love Is” to your boyfriend, Brian. How did you meet?
A. I met Brian at an autism program five years ago. He’d talk about things he struggled with at school, beliefs, and I was like, “Oh my God! I thought I was the only one who thought that.”
Before Brian came into the picture, people — it’s not that people didn’t love me — but they didn’t know how to have me participate because, being blind and autistic, things were too fast for me. He helped me be included. We’d watch movies, and he’d pause and explain every scene. It would take five hours for a two-hour movie. Nobody did this. That takes tremendous patience.
Q. Hopefully, you’re beginning to realize you’re inspiring people.
A. I mean, I still have thoughts of, “Gee, am I worthy of this? Am I good enough to do this?” But that’s all part of the journey. That’s what I want to teach people. Love is a scary thing — but it’s worth diving into the ocean.