Last year on America’s Got Talent, 30-year-old singer-songwriter Jane Marczewski, aka Nightbirde, a cancer patient who at the time had been given her only a 2 percent chance of survival, moved judge Simon Cowell to tears and earned his Golden Buzzer with her optimistic original ballad, “It’s OK.” While the Golden Buzzer had fast-tracked her straight to Season 16’s live shows, when those rounds began two months later, Nightbirde made the tough decision to drop out of the competition to focus on her cancer treatment; in February of this year, she tragically lost her cancer battle.
This week, a dance troupe of Lebanese women called Mayyas auditioned for AGT, citing the brave and resilient Marczewski as their chief inspiration — and in process, they honored Nightbirde by earning a Golden Buzzer of their own.
“Lebanon is not considered a place where you can build a career out of dancing. It’s hard, really hard — and harder for women,” choreographer Nadim Cherfan, who founded Mayyas to provide a “safe and creative space” for these talented dancers, told host Terry Crews backstage. “I grew up watching America’s Got Talent, and I was inspired by so many people, but what really got us to audition this year is Nightbirde, when she said, ‘You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.’”
Living up to their name, which means “the proud walk of a lioness,” the Mayyas members then strutted onto the AGT stage as Marczewski’s “It’s OK” played in the background. As they told Simon and the other judges of their “daily struggle” back home, some of them visibly teared up beneath their beaded veils. “Unfortunately, being a dancer as a female Arab is not fully supported — yet,” one of them emotionally explained. “Us being here on the biggest stage in the world is our only chance to prove to the world what Arab women can do — the art we create, the fights we fight. … We want to show the world that we are able to stand on our feet as really strong and powerful women.”
Mayyas proceeded to amaze the panel and live audience with their intricate, super-precise alternative/Arabic dance routine, which earned a four-way standing ovation from the judges. Howie Mandel called it “perfection,” Heidi called it “stunning,” and Simon told them, “It was arguably the best dance act we’re likely to have ever seen, and we are honored to have you here.”