America’s Got Talent has found its next Golden Buzzer — and judge Heidi Klum was the one doing the honors!
Tuesday’s episode picked up with auditions after a brief holiday hiatus last week. While the episode was filled with a wide range of talented performers, it was the last act who ultimately stole the show.
Singer Lavender Darcangelo moved both the judges and audience with her story and impressive vocals — so much so that she received Heidi’s coveted Golden Buzzer.
“I did not expect this to happen,” Lavender, 27, tells PEOPLE about her big moment. “Ever since I was a little kid, my biggest dream was to record CDs, to sing in front of huge audiences and inspiring people. When Heidi gave me the Golden Buzzer, it felt like a sort of deja vu, because things like this already happened in my mind when I was four years old.”
“I wanted to pinch myself because I thought I was just being 4 years old and lying on the couch again and daydreaming as usual!” she adds. “[My] audition for AGT was all a blur. It was like being numb or being beside myself — but in a good way — like walking on air without moving.”
During her audition, Lavender — who was accompanied on stage by her dad Wil — revealed that she was blind and has autism.
“I’ve been singing since I was three years old, I didn’t talk until I was 4 and a half,” she explained, noting that she wanted to be on AGT because she has “a lot of dreams,” including building a school where classes are tailored to the kids’ interests.
Lavender also disclosed how Wil adopted her “later in life” after she attended an after-school music program that he created.
“Lavender and I met, she asked me to adopt her and I said, ‘Well, I’m a member of a faculty, and that’s not just how it works,'” Wil explained. “But several years goes by and she’s having struggles and before you know it, she moved in with me and my husband Jamie the day we came home from our honeymoon. And so the year later, after that, she became our legal daughter.”
Lavender then performed a beloved Irene Cara song from a 1980 musical classic. The emotion behind her performance, combined with her impressive vocals, moved the judges to a standing ovation — but it was Heidi who pushed her Golden Buzzer.
Heidi, 50, tells PEOPLE exclusively about the performance: “As a child I lived for the movie Fame, so I loved that she was singing ‘Out Here On My Own.’ I immediately felt a connection with Lavender and I knew that I wanted to be her biggest cheerleader in this competition.”
On Tuesday’s episode, she gushed, “I feel like I just fell in love, This AGT journey is an amazing journey and I would love to be your cheerleader and hold your hand all the way to the finish line. What do you say? Let’s do this!”
Following the moment, Lavender was brought to tears. “It makes me so relieved because I start thinking, ‘Wow, what’s possible out there for me?’ It makes me question all the things that I thought I couldn’t do,” she tells PEOPLE. “If the world is willing to be accommodating and compassionate to me, then what more potential do I have that I don’t know about? How far can I go when being authentic?”
Her dads, Jamie and Wil — who officially adopted Lavender in August 2017 when she was 22 — also tell PEOPLE via email they were surprised in the best of ways.
“We were stunned, to be honest. We really hadn’t allowed ourselves to think about what might happen. We knew that people would like her because people always do,” they said. “But AGT has so many really talented people, it’s the biggest stage in the world. We were touched by their full acceptance of her.”
“For us, it’s a gift of validation for Lavender that she is free to live her most authentic life without judgment,” they add. “It’s proof that she can be a musician, but also a homebody, and a person on the Autism spectrum, and someone who’d rather prioritize playing on a swing set over living up to the traditional expectations of the music industry. It means that she might now believe in herself one degree closer to the vast amount of belief we already have in her.”
Speaking to PEOPLE about her bond with Wil, the singer says her adoption came after her birth parents found her blindness and autism to be “challenging” and struggled “to deal” with her behavioral problems. However, Wil was quick to embrace them, which stood out to Lavender.
“I loved Wil right away because I felt like I did not belong anywhere, and people outside of [the program] were impatient and cross with me because of my disabilities. Everybody else around me made me feel I was insignificant for always coloring outside the lines,” she explains. “I thought that there was a certain limit to people’s compassion, but Wil didn’t seem to have any limits.”
Despite his and Jamie’s unwavering support and love, Lavender still had self-doubts and disclosed to the judges that AGT was her favorite show “because it’s about being different and … I’m just not normal.”
Asked whether this moment has changed her perspective, Lavender says: “When Heidi gave me the Golden Buzzer, I was in shock because a small part of me realized, ‘Wait, maybe I deserve this! Even though I’m so weird! My dad Wil had to help me with answering questions from the AGT judges, but maybe that’s okay! And maybe it’s a good idea that I want to create a school that starts off by kids and adults playing until they naturally find an interest! Maybe I’m normal?'”
“I am realizing that a lot of people who go on AGT have so many unique stories and it would mean a lot if my ideas helped them,” she adds. “I want people to know that there is not a one-size fits all way of approaching life.”
Lavender now joins the list of acts who have received a Golden Buzzer so far this season.
Those acts included Atlanta Drum Academy who earned host Terry Crews’ Golden Buzzer, blind singer Putri Ariani who earned Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer, dance group Murmuration who earned Howie Mandel’s Golden Buzzer and Mzansi Youth Choir, a group of singers from South Africa, who earned the show’s first-ever Audience Golden Buzzer after performing a touching tribute to late AGT season 16 singer Nightbirde.
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.