There are singers who are professionally trained. There are singers who seem to be born with the talent. And then there’s subway station singer Mike Yung, whose story is a tale of time, hard work, perseverance, and single shot at the big stage.
Yung is a 57-year-old New York City man who has worked various jobs but has found his primary income from singing on an unusual stage — the subway station at 23rd and Sixth Avenue. And in 2016, a passerby hugely impressed by Yung’s soulful performance of “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers captured a video and posted it online. And that’s when he went viral, getting seen 40 million times on YouTube, according to People.
But Yung knew that internet fame is fleeting and decided he could make a bigger splash on the stage of “America’s Got Talent.” His audition was aired on national television on Tuesday, and it was quite the sensation. You could read the doubt on the judge’s face as he appeared on stage, though, in street clothes, sneakers, and a sock hat — his humble attire little different than what he wore as he sang underground for four to five hours a day. But then the music began to play.
Singing with a raw quality and expressing little distracting showmanship, he belted out “Unchained Melody” straight from his heart, holding notes long enough to draw many in the audience to cheers and to bring some to tears. As his final note died away, the audience rose as one to their feet with Cowell standing up as well and cheering their support. Not all the judges were impressed, though.
“At times it sounded a little rough around the edges,” judge Heidi Klum criticized, drawing loud boos from the crowd, but she acknowledged that Yung sang with great meaning.
Judge Howie Mandel said the “roughness is what enveloped me,” but judge Mel B drew more boos as she argued that Yung’s subway singer talent did not translate well to the big stage.
“This is the real deal,” Cowell countered. “No machines. This is 40 years of actually going out there. It just makes me remember what great singers can be. This is what this is all about, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Both Cowell and Mandel gave Yung an enthusiastic “yes” vote. Mel B gave him a “no.” With the audience chanting loudly at her, Klum finally relented and gave Yung a “yes” as well, advancing him to the next round.
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Watch the video below to see the YouTube video that made him go viral: