'AGT': Golden Buzzer Goes to Group Performing Emotional Tribute to Late Contestant Nightbirde

America's Got Talent Season 18 kicked off with one of the most inspiring moments in the show's history. The Mzansi Youth Choir of South Africa received the first-ever Audience Golden Buzzer after they performed "It's Okay," a song written by the late AGT contestant Nighbirde. While it was likely that the judges would have unanimously approved their performance, judge Simon Cowell gave the audience a way to cap off the powerful moment.

Nightbirde, born Jane Marczewski, competed on AGT Season 16 and told the audience she had a 2% chance of survival after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Cowell gave her his Golden Buzzer, giving her the opportunity to perform live for America. However, she needed to withdraw from the show as her health took a turn for the worse. She died in February 2022 at 31.

Nightirde's story was so inspiring to the Mzansi Youth Choir's singers that they chose to perform her original song "It's Okay." Cowell broke down in tears after they finished their song. "I know how much this would have meant to her," he told the singers. "Right until the end, she was so passionate about sharing her music and this has gone all over the world and you've come back here with the most amazing tribute. It was just breathtaking, honestly."

The crowd then began chanting "golden buzzer" repeatedly. So, Cowell decided to give the choir the first Audience Golden Buzzer. "That was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard in my life," judge Howie Mandel told them as gold confetti rained down.

"We never expected a reception like this," Jannie Zaaiman, the founder and director of the Mazansi Youth Choir, told PEOPLE after the episode aired. "We had hoped we would make it through to the next round, but this was an absolute spectacular experience for the choristers, who handled the pressure with such poise and grace... We are immensely proud of them for this extraordinary achievement."

Nightbirde's older brother, Mitch Marczewski Jr., also found the choir's performance moving. "AGT did an incredible job with Jane's song and I was deeply moved by their performance," Marczewski, who serves as the CEO of the Nightbirde Foundation, told PEOPLE. "I didn't think anyone could cover Jane's song on AGT, but they proved me wrong." He said it was "humbling" to see how his sister's story has inspired people around the world, far beyond the borders of AGT's intended audience.

"Of the 17 choristers who performed on stage, only one has a job. Because of the huge unemployment rate in South Africa, the choir is their second home," Zaaiman told the outlet Wednesday. "To come here and see Simon react the way he did, just showed us what a special person he is, and we will never forget his words: 'You defined what this show absolutely is all about.' We want to touch people's hearts with what we do and show the wonderful skills our choristers have... [and] what an incredible opportunity and privilege to continue [Jane's] amazing legacy."

America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. There are still Golden Buzzers to be had, as all four judges and host Terry Crews have their own. The show streams on Peacock.