LYNN — Amanda Mena made sure to spice up Tuesday night’s airing of “America’s Got Talent” auditions after receiving the golden buzzer.
The Lynn resident sang a goosebump-worthy rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” that caught the attention of all four celebrity judges, including Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Simon Cowell. The most enthusiastic reaction came from Spice Girls member Mel B, who hit the golden buzzer, a button that each judge can hit only once during a season which allows the performer to go straight to the live shows in Hollywood.
“The judges all definitely gave me advice that I’ll take with me for a long time, like Simon said I had natural soul and I took that in and really appreciated it,” said Mena. “I’ve been watching the show since I was little and always dreamed of performing on it and now that I did I feel like I reached a goal of mine.”
Before she began her audition, Mena told the judges her story of being bullied as a kid due to her difficulties speaking English. After her performance, the judges, except Simon Cowell, gave the Lynner a standing ovation. Right before Mel B hit the golden buzzer — aired in slow motion for dramatic effect — she said, “This is what I have to say to all those bullies.”
“Whatever happens with this show, I feel like I still won,” said Mena. “Just getting the golden buzzer from Mel B, who is a huge inspiration to me, is a big win because it proves anything can be done.”
Born in Salem, Mena moved to the Dominican Republic as a baby. She lived there for four years before returning to settle with her family in Lynn. She graduated from Cobbett Elementary School, attended Breed Middle School for one year, and then enrolled at St. Mary’s, where she currently attends as a rising sophomore. During her audition, the singer said she was from Boston, as the show’s producers suggested naming a more well-known city, according to her.
“Lynn was definitely a really good place for me to grow up because it taught me a lot, like how to survive in a lot of situations,” she said. “I think it’s such an amazing city and very misunderstood in a way but it really did teach me a lot and it provides opportunities for kids that are struggling.”
Mena’s love of music began after she became a member of the Lynn YMCA at 7 years old, where she quickly became close with Audrey Jimenez, executive director of the Lynn YMCA. Mena was a member of the youth program and was very active in sports, swimming, and dance before she found her voice. In 2014, the Lynn after school program put in a music studio and Mena was one of the first members to use it.
“The studio there was a big part of my career because I did experience a lot of help from the people there and I learned so much,” said Mena. “That’s where I got my start and was able to realize this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Mena gives credit to Jimenez for much of what she learned over the years, calling her, and everyone else at the YMCA, part of her family. After quickly finding a love for music at the after school studio, Mena would spend hours there just practicing. When the opportunity to perform solo for the Lynn Out Loud talent showcase at City Hall came up, Jimenez strongly encouraged her to sign up.
“Even through all of this success she continues to maintain that sweet, cooperative personality and that’s what endears her to everybody,” said Jimenez. “She has that ‘x factor’ and everyone can recognize it, so for us at the YMCA to have been apart of that is really special.”
Mena continued practicing her stage presence as a student at St. Mary’s, with Beverly Buckley encouraging her through it. Buckley, a science and physical education teacher at SMH for the last 25 years, had Mena as a student in seventh grade. After recognizing her natural talent, Buckley invited her to join the after school performing arts program which sang at a number of events across the North Shore.
“I remember she sang ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Hallelujah’ at a senior citizens event and everyone was shocked at the voice coming from this little sweetheart and she gave everyone goosebumps,”said Buckley. “I never thought that big voice would come out of her. I mean, she sings with such poise and personality, so I have no doubt in my mind she’s going to go all the way.”
The vocal powerhouse has received messages of support from all over the world since her audition aired. Even though it’s been an overwhelming week of outpouring support, this isn’t the 15-year-old’s first brush with fame. At 11 years old, Mena won the 2014 season of “La Voz Kids,” the Spanish version of “The Voice Kids,” where she won a contract with Universal Studios and a hit song, “Alma Gemela,” with a music video that can be found on YouTube.
“All the Latino people in America are going through a lot, so I hope they see me and get motivated,” said Mena. “I feel blessed to have all this support, especially from the Hispanic community, and it’s important to show them right now that we can do anything we put our minds to.”
After her golden buzzer moment, Mena and her mother went out in New York City and celebrated with some ice cream, mint chocolate chip being her favorite. Now the young talent is staying in Los Angeles to prepare for the live shows, which will air on NBC in a few weeks.
Anyone rooting for Mena to win can like her audition video on the America’s Got Talent YouTube channel and vote for her when the time comes during the live shows.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone because the love has been insane and I still can’t believe it,” she said. “I feel blessed to have been raised in Lynn and I hope this golden buzzer can be a win for all of us and can allow Lynn to shine really big, too.”