GCU grad Joseph Allen earns the Golden Buzzer on ‘America’s Got Talent’
GCU News Bureau
Joseph Allen churned out some golden raps as a well-known and well-liked GCU student. But on Tuesday night, after performing an original song he wrote, now he can say he landed the much sought-after Golden Buzzer on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” — and he has been the big buzz on campus ever since. The video of his Golden Buzzer moment already had been seen 5.1 million times just 15 hours after it was posted.
Judge Howie Mandel hopped dramatically on the judges’ table during Tuesday night’s airing of the show and stepped on the Golden Buzzer, meaning Allen is guaranteed a spot in the final live shows of “AGT.”
The Golden Buzzer press was followed by, not only host Terry Crews carrying Allen across the stage, as he promised Allen he’d do if he got the Golden Buzzer, but an enthusiastic Lopes Up from judge Julianne Hough.
Add to that this comment from judge Simon Cowell, who was amazed at the support Allen received from the seemingly electrically charged Lopes in the audience, in true Havocs-type form: “You got the best reaction of doing nothing we’ve ever had on this show,” said Cowell. “You got a standing ovation before you even performed. I’m thinking, ‘Am I one step behind here?’ … I tell you what, the WHOLE WORLD should go to your school right now.”
Cowell’s comments were followed by Mandel stepping on the Golden Buzzer in response to Allen telling the judges, “I see myself as being someone who can make a major impact in the world, and I just want to see how much of a footprint I can leave on earth before I leave.”
Mandel said, “People just want this moment to happen. You said you want to leave a footprint. Well, I’m going to give you the footprint you want to leave.”
“Oh man!” Allen said Wednesday morning. “I was just up there and enjoying every minute of the day and enjoying the experience. Just me taking a step back and enjoying the experience was the smartest thing I could do. It gave me the right energy and they picked up on it.”
Allen was still astounded how it all unfolded in his fifth audition for the show.
He had gone to Pasadena for the taping on March 20 during GCU’s spring break. He didn’t know that many other students picked the spot for spring break, and they randomly decided to go to the taping of “America’s Got Talent.”
“I don’t think they knew I was auditioning,” he said. “It was literally like divine intervention. I walked on stage, I see all these people tripping. God was calling the shots to make that happen.”
Growing up in a mixed family with 11 siblings in Killeen, Texas, Allen said he had a thirst for attention. So when he didn’t make the choir in third grade, he became the “class clown” — at least until the choir director told him a better way to get attention was to learn to sing.
Boy, did he learn. He sang in school and church through school and brought his talents to GCU, where he studied digital production and worked on his music.
“I feel like I’ve had that divine purpose for some years now,” he said. “I feel like God had me at the right place at the right time. Everything I learned about being a man, how to carry myself as a man, I learned at GCU. The timing was perfect.”
He tried and tried to get on the show.
“It was a whole lot of telling me no. I needed to write a song they couldn’t deny,” Allen said. “It worked.”
The reaction on Wednesday amazed him.
“A whole lot of people were saying that is an energy they needed. I was humbled by that.”
Allen, 21, lives in Los Angeles after graduating from GCU in April with a degree in digital film production and a minor in business.
He’s hoping his breakthrough appearance will mean more ways to get his music out. He has hired a lawyer to consider offers from a record company, he said, and is working on his YouTube channel.
“I want to ride this wave and create a career, and just entertain people,” he said.
Said GCU President Brian Mueller: “When I saw the video from ‘America’s Got Talent,’ I wasn’t surprised at all. He has that kind of effect on people. He’s very enthusiastic, charismatic, people-oriented and has a lot of friends at GCU. When he gets in a setting like that, he just makes people feel good.”
While a student, Allen met with Mueller multiple times in the president’s office.
“He shared with me that he absolutely loved his experience at GCU and he wanted to use his rap videos to promote that experience with other students,” Mueller said. “I knew right away when I met him that he would be successful in some kind of entertainment capacity.”
Allen, from Killeen, Texas, began his studies at GCU as a mechanical engineering major but switched to digital production.
During his time at GCU, Allen rapped on a commercial for GCU where he delivers lines such as “Lopes Up, never Lopes down!” and how “all year, we be rockin’ shorts.” And he was featured in a GCU blog titled “Center for Worship Arts’ Rising Talent Spotlight: Joseph Allen,” in which he shares how he spent his first year at GCU writing, producing, recording and mastering his own 10-song LP, “The College Lifestyle.”
He recorded the LP in the GCU Recording Studio with the help of John McJunkin, Recording Studio Coordinator. Allen said he didn’t know anything about recording or producing music but taught himself by watching videos online and even used the closet in his dorm room to record, using towels, jackets and blankets to engineer the small space before heading to the studio.
Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson also knows Allen well.
“I was overwhelmed and just overjoyed because, for four years now, we’ve been saying, ‘You never know when you’re making history in the studio,’” Johnson said. “When you look at a basketball player, you can see their score immediately go up on the scoreboard and you can tell they were successful in that moment. But when students are producing music, it’s a long path – it’s a long row to hoe.
“I’m sure he’s been faced with the same kinds of challenges and struggles that every other student has. But the difference in Joseph is that he doesn’t run away, he doesn’t turn around when there’s a challenge. He perseveres and pushes through.”
McJunkin has fond memories of Allen becoming the first student to record a song in the new studio, on Dec. 7, 2015. He lauded Allen’s “strong sense of creativity.”
“He came into the studio and had, to my ear, what seemed like some really crazy ideas – ‘Let’s try this, let’s try this’ – and as it all started to come together and kind of jelled into something I thought, ‘Wow, this is really amazing.’ He’s got a gift,” McJunkin said.
Soon, Allen was consulting with them on where he could buy a microphone and was recording songs in his residence hall room.
“It ignited him, that one song,” McJunkin said. “It just lit the fire. The next time he came in he had 10 songs. I know he had a lot of sleepless nights in his dorm room hammering away on the computer.”
The word that best describes Allen, they agreed, is natural.
“That’s a good description,” Johnson said. “He just beams with joy and exuberance. People want to be around him.”
In Tuesday night’s episode, he said, “I told my dad, ‘I’m about to be on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ My dad cried.”
Before the show and that 10-song LP he made at GCU, he wrote a song for his mother, recorded a video and posted it. “People started sharing it like crazy,” he told producers, which was an early indication that maybe music was what he should be doing with his life.
It’s rare that performers perform original material on the show; Allen chose to go for rare.
Some of the words to his song, a combination of inspirational rap and smooth-singing: “In life, moments come and go/ Take a shot or you’ll never know/ Your heart will tell you when it’s time to move/ Ask yourself what you got to lose/ When it storms, when it rains, it falls on all of us the same/ But after today, the world’s gonna know my name.”
He went on to sing how everybody backstage, “Please, don’t be scared, because up close, Simon looks just like a teddy bear.”
Cowell declared how Allen has “amazing energy” and “great tone.”
“I love you,” Cowell said. “Watching the reaction you got before you even started was astonishing.”
That’s something his mom, Karen Allen-Smith, would whole-heartedly agree with. She told Killeen’s KCEN TV: “He has like a 16 x 20 dream. I have a 5 x 7 frame, so I can only see a small portion of it” and added how she has to trust him and the process.
Allen’s Golden Buzzer moment on “America’s Got Talent” is all the buzz today on campus.
Zack Merhavy lived in the same residence hall as Allen his freshman year and quickly saw his talent emerge because he was part of his first music video.
“He lived in Room 222 and wanted to say how much he loved living in that hall and with all his friends,” said Merhavy. “We spent three days doing that video, and I still have it on my phone. It’s so catchy. And he had so much fun making it that it made you really like it.”
Merhavy, who graduated in spring 2018 and is now a career services advisor at GCU, said Allen is such a charismatic person who has a way of firing people up.
“I’m crazy proud of him because he’s worked so hard,” Merhavy said.
Program Director of the Digital Film Department Lisa Tervo said, “I had Joseph in a couple of classes. … I am very excited for him and for the opportunities this will bring to Joseph. He’s an incredibly talented musician and audio engineer.”
Annika Balkema, a senior, was sent the link of the performance by a roommate who knew Allen. After watching it, she was blown away.
“I like his message. I loved the part where he talked about leaving a footprint on the world,” she said. “I thought it was cool where he wants to go with his life and his career.”
Allen, in an “America’s Got Talent” video of him watching the playback of his Golden Buzzer moment, said, “I started crying … then Terry Crews comes out. It’s crazy … It was surreal but real at the same time. I remember backstage. Gabrielle (Union, one of the judges) comes up to me. She’s hugging me, and she says, ‘All I know is I better not get some horrible tickets when you perform at Coachella.’ When you hear that from someone like that – oh, dude – it shakes you, man. This whole experience has been an emotional roller-coaster, man.”
GCU senior writers Lana Sweeten-Shults, Mike Kilen and Communications Manager Rick Vacek contributed to this story.