Darci Lynne was first introduced to viewers in 2017 when she competed on and won the 12th season of 'America's Got Talent'
Warning: this post contains spoilers from the latest episode of America's Got Talent: Fantasy League.
During Monday's episode of the America's Got Talent spinoff, the 19-year-old ventriloquist — who competed on and won the 12th season of AGT in 2017 — shocked audiences when she decided to abandon her puppet and perform an original song solo.
The move both surprised and impressed the judges, who initially questioned Darci's intentions before praising her for forging her own path, despite their previous feedback.
"A couple weeks ago, Darci did less of ventriloquism and more singing, and we said we think that's a big mistake," judge Simon Cowell said after her performance. "And so, you completely disregarded our advice, threw away the puppets and decided to come out and do it yourself."
But for Darci, who was competing on judge Heidi Klum's fantasy team, the choice to shift away from her childish ventriloquist image and embrace her aspiring musician adulthood was one she felt was necessary.
“It's crazy for a lot of people,” Darci recently told PEOPLE in an interview to promote the release of her debut single, “Push Our Luck.” “They all have that 12-year-old in mind whenever my name comes up. And so now it's like, ‘Oh my gosh, she's growing up.’"
“My mantra is I don't want to be put in a box or limited in any way,” she continues. “Singing always came first. Singing is what I grew up doing as long as I can remember. And then the ventriloquism came around. Now I'm able to step out and be more confident in my own skin without the puppet. I think it was always kind of meant to go down this road ... it's important that I show this side of me and show that I can hold my own as a solo artist now, singing with my mouth open."
Prior to taking the stage, Darci explained in her intro package that she "was a very shy little girl who had just started ventriloquism when I came to AGT for the first time, but that's definitely not who I am now. I'm not 12 anymore."
Looking back on her first round performance, where she sang "I've Got the Music in Me" and partly abandoned her puppet, Darci remembered how the judges weren't completely thrilled with the move, with Mel B telling her afterward, "The music and everything else overshadowed what you're so good at."
"With that first performance, I was trying to show that I'm more than just a ventriloquist," Darci explained. "It just did not go the way that I had wanted it to ... hearing what the judges had to say after my last performance was definitely disappointing."
Much to her surprise, Darci nabbed the last spot in the semifinals, which made her realize "America is still intrigued" with her and ventriloquism — but still, she wanted to break away from her little girl image and move toward a more serious music career.
"Ventriloquism connected with so many people and it felt like the puppets really connected with people, but now, with music, I want to connect with people — with me, like, Darci to person," she explained.
Even though Coach Heidi felt some hesitation, she was on board with Darci's decision, telling cameras: "This is her moment, so I feel like she needs to do what her gut tells her."
"This is just something I feel like I have to do in my heart," Darci later said. "This is more than just the next step in the competition, it's the next step in my life. I'm going up against the best of the best, and I want to show everyone that I can earn a place in the finals."
After Darci's upbeat performance, Heidi told her, "You know, I think as an artist, you need to follow your own instincts. You have to, at some point, not listen to the noise anymore and you just have to do what's in your gut. And that is maybe a risk, but this is what you wanted and you did it!"
Howie Mandel also praised Darci, even comparing her to host Terry Crews. "You know, we all, as human beings, we have many sides and many things. You're standing beside a guy who's not only a great host, but he's an artist. He's an athlete. He's a motivational speaker. Those are all part of him. You're a singer. You're a ventriloquist. And thank you for sharing another side."
Mel said she agreed with Heidi and Howie but noted, "This is a competition and you have to remember what you came into this with." After confirming with Darci that the move was her own decision and one that she was happy with, Mel said, "Then I think that's all that matters!"
Finally, Simon offered his feedback and after joking that Darci "completely disregarded our advice," he also praised the teen for her confidence. "You know what? I always believed the most successful people in life are people who make their own decisions that don't listen to other people," he said. "Good for you for sticking with your guns."
Though Darci seemingly had the support of the judges behind her, that was unfortunately not enough to push her into the finals. Instead, America voted to put Shadow Ace from Howie's dream team through to the next round.
Joining him was dancer Musa Motha from Simon's dream team (who also earned Simon's Golden Buzzer on Monday) and dance/acrobatic crew V. Unbeatable, who were initially on Howie's dream team but were stolen by Heidi with her Golden Buzzer.
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America's Got Talent: Fantasy League airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
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