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‘AGT’ star Brandon Leake talks about performing poetry on the Strip

Updated November 9, 2021 - 2:50 pm

Brandon Leake sits in the Luxor Theater, talking of his career as a talker, and stops. He hears something the interviewer doesn’t: voices from the aisle several feet away. “Hang on, I’ll wait for that to stop.”

Moments later, he sees the screen of the nearby smartphone, used to capture his words on a digital audio recorder, has gone dark. He picks up the device, checks it and says, “Let’s make sure it’s still recording.”

Leake is a gentleman aware of not only his surroundings, but yours. The Season 15 “America’s Got Talent” champ is the first and only spoken-word artist in the show’s 15-year history.

Leake won that title in September 2020, after judge Howie Mandel launched him to the semifinals with his Golden Buzzer blast during the show’s televised auditions. Leake is in the cast of “America’s Got Talent: Live!” at Luxor. The show is performing an open-ended residency, co-starring several of “AGT’s” past champs and finalists.

Leake sat for the chat after a

showcase of some of those acts at the theater.

Johnny Kats: I’ve covered entertainment in Las Vegas for a long time, and I’ve never seen anybody do exactly what you do onstage on the Strip. It’s amazing. What is it like for you to be onstage in a Las Vegas theater as opposed to, say, a coffee shop or small club or street corner?

Brandon Leake: It’s an honor to be in a groundbreaking position, to be the first spoken-word artist not only to win the show, but to be part of a Vegas residency in this fashion. It’s humbling to know that I get the chance to spread not only my art form, but hopefully spread some hope and some joy into people’s lives.

What was the catalyst for you to pursue “AGT,” since there was no similar artist ever on the series?

There was no other show to go to. I mean, singers can go to “The Voice or “American Idol” or several other different shows, dancers can find shows, magicians can go to Penn &Teller (“Fool Us”). But spoken word has, like, coffee shops, as of right now. So “AGT” was the only place that I could find a home.

When you think about what succeeds in Las Vegas, the large-scale production shows and star headliners, how does that work out artistically for you?

I think that Vegas, in a lot of people’s eyes, is not for what I do. I think that the consumers, they often don’t know what they, quote-unquote, arrived for. But then once they receive something that’s unexpected, they can either choose to recoil or choose to really embrace it. And from our preview shows, it’s been a highly embraced art form.

So they might not list “spoken-word poetry” as one of the reasons they’re visiting Vegas, but when they see it they like it because it is something new and different. That is the message?

I think I’m the unexpected idea that you can show up to Vegas and leave improved outside of your wallet.

That could be your own tourism campaign.

(Laughs) Yes, for anybody who’s interested in coming, don’t just be interested. Come! It’s gonna be well worth it.

What are you able to be inspired to create in this environment, any new material?

The poem I’m doing here is actually custom-made for this show. It’s nothing that I have ever done before. It was made for this audience. I have a one-man play I’ll be doing at Nevada Museum of Art, Reno called “Insomnia” in December.

Anything in Las Vegas?

You’ll see me on random street corners with my typewriter, writing poems for people. In Las Vegas, I will be in the Arts District.

You’ll be near me! I’m ordering a poem, right now. You’ll see me there.

(Laughs) Deal. I’ll do typewriter poetry for you.

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