'America's Got Talent' winner Darci Lynne brings 'Friends' to Rosemont

Never mind that she is the youngest performer ever to win NBC's "America's Got Talent," received more final performance votes than any other contestant in the show's history and is now in the middle of a 21-city tour.

At 13, Darci Lynne says she just wants to be a normal kid.

That's not so easy when you're a professional singing ventriloquist with millions of fans from the TV show and YouTube videos. She brings her "Darci Lynne and Friends Live" show to the Rosemont Theatre Sunday, Feb. 11.

But when she's not performing, Darci still attends her local school in Oklahoma and hangs out with friends. "I have the best group of friends," she said in a recent phone interview. "They are so supportive throughout this whole thing. They watched me all the time and even had watch parties where they voted for me."

Although Darci projects a level of confidence and poise far beyond her years, that wasn't always the case. She was shy as a young girl, and Darci's mom, Misty, looked for ways to help.

"When we went out, she'd be shy, not talking to people," Misty said. "I knew she could sing and had a great personality, she just needed a way to bring it out."

Misty entered Darci in local beauty pageants, which she started winning with her voice and newfound confidence. Her path to puppetry also came through a beauty pageant connection.

When Darci was 10, she saw a performance by Laryssa Bonacquisti, who would later become Miss Louisiana 2017 and compete in the Miss America Pageant. Bonacquisti performed as a ventriloquist for pageant talent competitions and she had a huge impact on a young, future star in her audience.

"There was something super special about it, the art was so unique," Darci said. "I'm thinking, I have to try that, it's my calling!" She then met Bonacquisti, who helped her get started with pointers on performing with puppets and how to practice - which Darci would do in her bathroom mirror.

Darci asked her parents to buy her a puppet for performances. They resisted at first, but that only made her more determined.

"I was not going to let them say no," she said. "I was very persistent and they finally surprised me for my 10th birthday."

As she practiced and honed her skills in combining singing and comedy in her puppet performances, she met well-known touring ventriloquists Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator. Fator, a previous "America's Got Talent" winner, helped Darci with jokes and material. However, Darci really relies on the people she calls her biggest fans to help develop her act.

"For my joke ideas, it's a huge collaboration between my parents and my coach," she said. "But I come up with the character and voice. It's a total team effort."

Her big break came when she sent an audition tape to "America's Got Talent." Producers invited her to tryouts in Austin, Texas. She moved on from there, winning the show's most recent season. For her final competition performance, Darci's puppets - a rabbit named Petunia and a mouse named Oscar - sang The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."

One of the judges she had to impress was Simon Cowell, who has a reputation for being more nasty than nice to TV talent contestants.

"I have talked to him and he's awesome," said Darci about getting advice from Cowell. "He's really not scary once you get to know him - he's very kind and genuine."

As far as what she'd like to do in the future, Darci doesn't want to be known solely as, in her words, "the puppet girl."

"I want to be a performer," she said. "I want to be on Broadway, I want to record songs and … I want to do it all!"

<h3 class="briefHead">"Darci Lynne and Friends Live"</h3>

<b>When:</b> 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11

<b>Where:</b> Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont,

<b>Tickets:</b> Start at $27

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