Ben Waites, a Nashville-based gospel singer, performs on the July 12 episode of NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
Photo by Trae Patton/Courtesy of NBC

Southern gospel singer appears on America’s Got Talent after 10-year wait

Ben Waites’ performance on the July 12 episode of America’s Got Talent has garnered millions of views, which he says can only be described as “a God thing.”

Waites, a Nashville-based southern gospel singer and vocal coach, said glorifying God remains the primary motivation for his audition on the popular NBC show.

“Everything that I’ve done my entire career has been so heavily oriented in serving Christ and showing the love of God to as many people as I can,” he said. “I looked at this as an opportunity for reaching a lot of people that I probably couldn’t have on my own.”

Based on the response of the AGT audience and judges, Waites made quite an impression. He received a standing ovation led by AGT judge Sofía Vergara.

Judges respond

Judge Heidi Klum said Vergara was “bawling her eyes out” during Waites’ performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”

“I loved it because it’s a beautiful song, but you made it yours. It was special and different,” Vergara said.

Judge Simon Cowell added, “There’s no such thing as a perfect audition. This is just a great audition. This is a moment.” Waites received a “yes” from all three judges to move on to the next round of competition.

‘Strange journey’

The 33-year-old Waites said his journey to the show was a strange one. He first auditioned for America’s Got Talent years ago while a student at Louisiana Christian University (then Louisiana College), but was not selected.

Years later Waites did not intend to try out for the show, but a viral video proved to be his golden ticket moment.

Originally from Louisiana, Waites was back for a concert in the state when someone filmed his performance and uploaded it to TikTok, where it received around 600,000 views in 24 hours.

Producers for AGT reached out to Waites about auditioning for the show.

“It had not even crossed my mind since my college days to do something like this, but God’s going to use this, and I didn’t need to pass up this opportunity,” Waites said.

The challenges he overcame to appear on the show mirror those he has faced in his personal life.

Waites was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a condition that causes fixed or hooked joints throughout the body, such as in the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. His family has always encouraged him not to let his disability limit him, he said.

“It wasn’t really a thing growing up because it was just my life,” Waites said. “I don’t ever think about it because each day is just another day for me where I’m using this wheelchair to get around or a stylus in my mouth to type.

“Growing up my parents and grandparents kept that same mentality in how they raised me. They would encourage me that if I wanted to do something then do it, and do it to the best of my ability. There were no excuses, and you would just figure out how to do what you wanted to do.”

Waites said during his years on the road performing, he has encountered many people with disabilities, including some with AMC, and he always tries to encourage them. He sees his appearance on AGT as a new avenue for that.

“I’ve met others with varying disabilities, and some are just full of joy, while others have some anger or bitterness within them as well,” Waites said.

Matter of perspective

“If anything, I would hope that my life demonstrates how important perspective is. My mind always goes to Romans 8:28 and knowing that everything has a purpose. What I would hope my life demonstrates for others going through hard struggles is if your perspective is in the right place then you can persevere, endure and see it through to the end.”

For the past few years, Waites has also been teaching and inspiring singers as a vocal coach. But his students aren’t the only ones getting inspiration from the lessons.

“You have no idea when someone walks in the door or gets on a Zoom who is going be on the other side,” Waites said. “The people that I teach are all ages, all genres, all backgrounds, all walks of life and all religions.

“These people bring their life and their experiences to the table, and they are giving me just as much back as I’m giving to them. It’s a very enlightening thing for me.”

In teaching, Waites is carrying a torch passed down from his grandfather who was his musical mentor. And in performing on AGT, Waites has already made an impact on viewers.

“It is surreal,” he said of his appearance on the show. “I even had quite the delay in originally responding back to them because I just was not sure if this was a direction that I wanted to go. My wife, grandmother and mom really poured into me that this is a really massive opportunity to reach a lot of people with the message that I’m trying to spread. I couldn’t pass that up.

“I’m carrying a lot of weight on my shoulders over it, not in the sense of being overly nervous or caring about winning. That stuff doesn’t matter to me. What I’m more concerned about is appropriately and effectively showing the gospel of Christ through this opportunity.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Reprinted from Baptist Press (, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. TAB Media contributed.