Brad Paisley served as a judge on America's Got Talent on Tuesday night, July 16, watching 18 acts continue in their pursuit to be declared the winner in the season finale. But only one contestant, 15-year-old Sophie Pecora, inspired Paisley to press the Golden Buzzer, automatically sending Pecora to the live shows.
“Sophie’s more of the coffee house vibe, and I thought [the Golden Buzzer] might need the nudge, because it reminded me, actually, of some of the early stuff that Taylor Swift was doing,” Paisley told PEOPLE. “In the sense that Taylor was writing these songs that started out with her and a guitar, and what it was like to be that age, and every girl that was anywhere near that situation immediately just took to what Taylor was doing. Sophie delivered it perfectly.”
Pecora sang a song, "7th Grade," about high school bullying, which Paisley praised for being both honest and brave.
“I went in there realizing you had this one sort of lifeline that you could throw out and guarantee the person a path forward,” Paisley said. “I realized that she was this talent as a voice in her grade. We’re talking about an age group that needs somebody to be able to sort of put into words what that’s like, and that’s pretty rare.”
"She’s quirky, she’s not the type that stands up there and belts out something like a Whitney Houston song," he continued. "Those are easy for everybody to leap to their feet and move on to the next round. It’s something she wrote, it’s brand new, it’s exactly from her heart. It’s got some wisdom, and she’s sort of soft-spoken.”
Pecora might of gotten validation from Paisley, but Paisley also got validation from his favorite judge, Simon Cowell.
“What was really validating for me, as much as I think of Simon, he turned to me and said, ‘That may be my favorite golden buzzer,'" Paisley recounted. "And I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah. I didn’t expect you to do that. I’m glad you did. That’s perfect."
“Simon felt like it was the perfect use of the Golden Buzzer because, just the fact that some of these soft-spoken, really wise type songwriters, they can fall through the cracks without a push."
Paisley previously opened up about his admiration for Cowell, who he has been a fan of since Cowell was on American Idol.
“It’s an interesting thing, because when we first got to know him on TV, he got this reputation sort of quickly of being a really hard line, tell-it-like-it-is guy," noted Paisley. "But, when you sit there at the judges’ table with him, you just start to realize how much he just cares about getting it right. That’s pretty inspiring ...
"He’s somebody willing to what they think in this day and age, face-to-face, on national television with people," he added, "and he’s also somebody who does know what they’re talking about."0comments
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays nights at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
Photo Credit: Getty images / Daniel Knighton