‘I’ve still got some sounds to make’

Actors Steve Guttenberg and Michael Winslow in 'Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol,' 1987. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Actors Steve Guttenberg and Michael Winslow in ‘Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol,’ 1987. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Many familiar faces have auditioned for America’s Got Talent this season, including two powerhouse The Voice contestants (Brooke Simpson, who made it to third place on that show in 2017, and this week’s AGT hopeful Sarah Potenza, a four-chair standout from 2015); Last Comic Standing winner Josh Blue; and even identical-twin standup act the Sklar Brothers (who’ve had their own successful shows on MTV, Comedy Central, and ESPN). 

In those cases, the judges and AGT host Terry Crews played dumb and never mentioned the contestants’ past experience. But on this week’s penultimate auditions episode, they couldn’t feign ignorance when arguably the most famous person to ever try out for AGT surprisingly showed up.

“I don’t know what to say, man. You are a legend to me,” gasped Terry.

“We know you!” exclaimed an even more excited Simon Cowell. “I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that you are here!”

“You are a trailblazer. … Thank you so much for being here,” Howie Mandel later raved.

“I’m Michael Winslow. … I used to be ‘The Man of 10,000 Sound Effects’ — but we’re in the hundreds of thousands now,” proclaimed the 62-year-old self-described “voicetramentalist.”

Fans of ‘80s popcorn cinema surely recognized Michael Winslow the instant he opened his mouth — if not before, just as Terry, Simon, Howie, and the rest of the AGT cast did Tuesday. Michael played officer Larvell Jones in all seven Police Academy movies (and in that hugely popular franchise’s spinoff television series as well), and he also had roles in box-office hits like Gremlins and Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs. At the height of his fame, he even appeared on the 1986 Oscars ceremony, presenting the Best Sound Effects Editing award to Back to the Future

But while a skim of Michael’s Wikipedia and IMDB pages shows that he’s worked rather steadily since then, he stated on AGT that he’d scaled back his career to focus on family after his first wife, Belinda Church, died in 1993. (Several reports online cite a drug overdose as the cause of Belinda’s death, but Michael glossed over his backstory’s more harrowing details during his pre-performance interview with Terry.)

“I always did this, and this was just a part of me. I’ve been making sounds since I was a kid,” said Michael, as he explained that as an “Air Force brat” who moved frequently while growing up, he had to create his own imaginary friends. “So, after high school I hitchhiked to Los Angeles, and I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew that I wanted to do this. And then I ended up being part of this movie called Police Academy, and suddenly my life changed from there. … I ended up doing pretty well! But I stopped making movies because I quit the business for my children. I had to raise them, because I became a widower.”

Michael then delighted the judges with an array of (as Sofia Vergara worded it) “not human” airplane and transistor-radio noises, as well as a beatboxing rendition of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” that seemed to especially impress Heidi Klum — although I’d been hoping that he’d perform his aptly titled original single “I Am My Own Walkman,” which (fun fact!) respectably charted at No. 60 in Australia in 1985. Michael was unsurprisingly very comfortable onstage Tuesday (another fun fact: His very first TV appearance was on The Gong Show, which was basically the America’s Got Talent of the 1970s), even if he seemed a bit winded after his fun routine. And he earned a standing ovation and four “gigantic yeses” from the panel.

“I always say the best races I love watching, because I love motor-racing, is sometimes all the big champions come back and they battle with the rookies. And that makes it a proper competition. So, the fact that you’ve come and you’ve set a standard here is just so thrilling for me. I’m absolutely ecstatic. That’s how you do it,” proclaimed Simon.

Of course, some AGT viewers might not think it totally fair for a champion with Michael Winslow’s résumé to compete against Season 16’s rookies. But this season is stacked with talent from all walks of life and with all levels of experience, so his victory is hardly guaranteed. For now, Michael just seems happy to be back in the game. 

“My life has changed again for the better, and I’ve gotten another blessing,” Michael declared, revealing that it was his son’s idea for him to go on the show. “Now, after raising my two kids, I’m in a different phase. I think this is my time. America’s Got Talent is the place for me to show I still have something to offer. I’ve still got some sounds to make, and there’s still room for a little more.”

The final America’s Got Talent Season 16 auditions will take place next Tuesday, followed by a two-week hiatus. The live shows will kick off Aug. 10, after NBC airs the Summer Olympics.

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