People Are Celebrating Kodi Lee On 'America's Got Talent' For The Wrong Reasons (2023)

Much of the praise surrounding Kodi Lee is pretty offensive to many with disabilities — despite how well-intended it may be.

On the season premiere of “America’s Got Talent” on Tuesday, the 22-year-old contestant, who is blind and autistic, sang and played piano for the judges and earned the golden buzzer, advancing straight to the live shows.


He also became an overnight sensation, earning acclaim from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, blogger Perez Hilton and Utah Jazz player Joe Ingles.

Loved this moment so much👏🏾👏🏾😭😭! Stood up and cheered in my living room. #KodiLee #AmericasGotTalent

— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) May 29, 2019

I dare you to watch this new America's Got Talent audition and not cry!!!! This is so special! I will never forget how I felt watching Kodi Lee on TV for the first time!!!!

— Perez (@ThePerezHilton) May 29, 2019

Wow!! Kodi Lee you are a superstar 💙💙

— Joe Ingles (@Joeingles7) May 29, 2019
(Video) Kodi Lee: Blind Autistic Singer WOWS And Gets GOLDEN BUZZER! | America's Got Talent 2019


Lee’s performance was extraordinary, but the way the talent competition show portrayed him — and the way most non-disabled people and media outlets responded to his performance — echoes offensive stereotypes about disability that reinforce ableism, or discrimination against people who are disabled. Some members of the community vented their frustrations on Twitter.

I knewwww the disabled community was gonna be annoyed asf about that inspiration porn ass editing and narrative on #AGT...I was not surprised Kodi Lee was talented. Idk why abled people think they the only talented ones. 🙄

— HOT GIRL GAB 🥵🔥 (@gabreupp) May 30, 2019

The Center for Disability Rights, a not-for-profit, community-based advocacy and service organization for people with all types of disabilities, said in a statement sent to HuffPost that the coverage surrounding Lee is a “perfect example” of how many media outlets use the unfortunate stereotype of disability being a “tragedy” to create “an inspiring story of overcoming.” By doing this, Lee becomes the subject of a media trope called “inspiration porn” that the organization described as stories in which “people with disabilities are portrayed as ‘inspirational’ for doing the same things as everyone else.”

The CDR said in its statement:

“The media picked up on Kodi Lee’s performance and was quick to show not only how he spoke, but even how he situated himself at the piano, often praising his mother for assisting him. Kodi Lee’s disabilities are as much a part of his identity as one’s heritage or culture. While we agree that Kodi Lee is incredibly talented with his voice and piano skills, we want to be clear that one can be both talented and disabled. By trying to inspire others by showing how Kodi Lee undergoes mundane tasks such as sitting down at the piano, we are only further marginalizing people with disabilities.”

One aspect some found ableist was the original title of Lee’s performance on the show’s YouTube channel, which was “Kodi Lee Defeats Autism and Blindness With Music.”


Kodi Lee’s performance was fantastic, but what in Satan’s name is this title, @AGT @nbc? Horribly offensive and ableist — I could hardly believe it was coming from your official channel! Please try again. #ActuallyAutistic #AmericasGotTalent #ableism #KodiLee

— Chrysanthe Tan (@ChrysantheTan) May 29, 2019
(Video) Kodi Lee With Leona Lewis Grand Finale Performance! | America's Got Talent 2019

Am I the only one who finds the title of the video ableist beyond belief? How the fuck do I defeat autism? Like it's a monster or something? ---- "Golden Buzzer: Kodi Lee Defeats Autism And Blindness With Music!" - Ameri... #ActuallyAutistic #Ableism

— Author Dahlia Donovan (@DahliaDonovan) May 29, 2019

The title, which has since been changed to “Kodi Lee Wows You With a Historical Music Moment,” implied that blindness and autism are burdens that one needs to overcome. When the reality for many who are blind and autistic is that it’s burdensome to have to constantly overcome obstacles in a society that is not accessible and often forgets their existence.

There shouldn’t be a need, by media or society as a whole, for Kodi to have to overcome his disability to achieve,” the CDR said in its statement.

A seemingly innocent tweet by actor Terry Crews, who is currently the host of “America’s Got Talent,” serves as an example of how inspiration porn reinforces ableism and affects the way society views disability.


In Crew’s tweet, which praises Lee, the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star calls to “Erase the DIS, highlight the ABILITY!”

This child of God is a prodigy. Autism and blindness can’t erase the smile from the face of @KodiLeeRocks. Kodi has given HOPE, POWER, and HAPPINESS to those who feel marginalized because of who they are. Erase the DIS, highlight the ABILITY! @gabunion 👍🏾

— terry crews (@terrycrews) May 29, 2019

It is a clichéd sentiment that many in the disability community found problematic, and they voiced their concerns.

I recognize you're trying to push back against society's marginalization of disability but your sentiment contributes to it. You can have a disability & be talented. Disability is an identity, not something that must be overlooked to acknowledge talent. No need to erase anything.

— Emily Ladau (@emily_ladau) May 30, 2019
(Video) Kodi Lee: America Loves Kodi Gets STANDING Ovation in Semifinals! | America's Got Talent 2019

Oh Terry, we like you so much, but this ain’t it. Let’s get you connected to a disability rights activist who can break it down for you. I recommend @Imani_Barbarin, @RebeccaCokley, @VilissaThompson, @IntersectedCrip or yours truly. Happy to help you learn & keep doing better.

— Sami Schalk (@DrSamiSchalk) May 30, 2019


Love you Terry, this is a learning moment. The "overcoming disability" narrative is ableist at the core & people don't realize the implications. Kodi is talented & autistic and blind, not talented despite those things. We can embrace all of who he is. Disabled doesn't mean less.

— Jennifer Bittner (@SrslyNotBoring) May 30, 2019

The Dis is important because it’s a part of who we are as Disabled people. It’s an identity that shouldn’t be erased. We should be trying to combat the stigma and stereotypes...but ignoring a big part of someone’s life and identity isn’t the way to go. ✨✨

—  (@HijaDe2Madre) May 30, 2019

He did great & I'm very happy for him, but never say "forget the dis" in "disability!" Being blind & autistic very much influences who a person is, & having talent does not erase that. You have to see the whole person, not just pick & choose "acceptable" aspects.

(Video) What Ever Happened to Kodi Lee? America's Got Talent Winner THEN and NOW!

— Jessie Nebulous♿ (@jessienebulous) May 29, 2019

Hi Terry, it's great you shared this video to combat disability stigma. But suggesting erasing DIS wouldn't erase stigma, but rather the lived-experiences of disability identity. this tells disabled people our existence should be dismissed adding to an ableist default worldview.

— Sandy Ho (@IntersectedCrip) May 30, 2019

There is nothing wrong with the word disability. Erase the perspective it means something negative in the first place.

— Rachel ~♡~ Elisabeth (@raelee514) May 29, 2019


Zoe Gross, director of operations at Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told HuffPost in a statement, “It’s frustrating to see so much of the response to his performance focusing on outdated tropes about disability.”

Gross said that there was no need for those ideas to be attached to his performance and agreed with the opinion of many in the community that Lee’s performance “was strong enough on its own.”

“I think a lot of the disability community’s disappointment is due to people openly expressing surprise that someone with multiple disabilities can have exceptional skills and lead a happy life,” she said. “It isn’t helpful for our community when people assume that disabled people don’t do much and are sad all the time, and I think that’s what some people are seeing in the responses to Lee’s performance.”

Go To Homepage


Where is Kodi Lee originally from? ›

Who are Kodi Lee's parents? ›

How much did Kodi Lee win on America's got talent? ›

As several publications have pointed out in the past, the end of AGT's final episode clarifies that: "The prize, which totals $1,000,000, is payable in a financial annuity over forty years, or the contestant may choose to receive the present cash value of such annuity.”

What happened to Kodi Lee America's got talent? ›

Even though Kodi didn't win this specific reality TV contest, he has found great success in the music industry. He is working on his first album and he currently headlines the “AGT” Las Vegas residency at the Luxor Hotel & Casino.

What is Kodi Lee backstory? ›

Kodi Lee was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, causing him to become legally blind. He was also diagnosed with autism at an early age, and has Addison's disease. Lee is a prodigious musical savant, a person who manifests musical abilities that would be considered extraordinary, even in a person who is not autistic.

What race is the Lee family? ›

The Lee Family is a Romani family from Birmingham, associated with the Shelby family.

How much does Kodi Lee make a year? ›

Kodi Lee Net worth
NameKodi Lee
Net Worth (2023)$8 Million
ProfessionAmerican singer-songwriter
Monthly Income And Salary$40,000 +
Yearly Income And Salary$0.5 Million +
1 more row
Feb 7, 2023

How much money did Kodi Lee win? ›

Simon Cowell, Julianne Hough, winner Kodi Lee, Gabrielle Union, Howie Mandel and Terry Crews celebrate in the finale episode of “America's Got Talent.” Former Utah resident Kodi Lee won “America's Got Talent” on Wednesday night, securing himself the top prize of $1 million. Well, kind of.

Who makes the most money on America's got talent? ›

Here's what we know. As mentioned, Simon is the boss on the show so it's perhaps unsurprising that he earns the most. In 2022, Celebrity Net Worth reported that he makes around $95 million for his appearance on AGT, which is an increase from 2021 when it was reported he earned around $45 million.

Does Kodi Lee have siblings? ›

Does Cody Lee have a CD? ›

Where Do We Go From Here Vol. 18.

Who won AGT Superstars 2023? ›

Following eight weeks of exciting competition that saw the return of 60 Got Talent greats, we finally have a winner of America's Got Talent: All-Stars. During February 27's finale, it was announced that the Superfans voted aerialist Aidan Bryant as the winner.

How many views did Kodi Lee get? ›

But when he stepped onto the stage, it became pretty clear that he was in a league of his own. Lee, a pianist and singer who won “AGT” in 2019 — and whose audition, with more than 430 million views, is the most-viewed audition in “AGT” history — was greeted with a massive standing ovation from the audience.

Who is Kodi Lee's father? ›

Kodi Lee Official Fan Club Page | The “Unsung Hero” of the Lee family is Kodi's proud Dad, Eric Lee.

How old is Kodi Lee? ›

How rich is the Lee family? ›

The Lee family is worth $19.1 billion.

Lee Man Tat, who serves as the chairman of the conglomerate, has a net worth of $19.1 billion.

What religion was Lee? ›

He was also a person of deep Christian conviction. In this biography of the famous Civil War general, R. David Cox shows how Lee's Christian faith shaped his crucial role in some of the most pivotal events in American history.

Is Lee family gypsy? ›

Common Gypsy names

You may have Romani, Traveller or Gypsy ancestry if your family tree includes common Romani or Gypsy surnames such as Boss, Boswell, Buckland, Chilcott, Codona, Cooper, Doe, Lee, Gray (or Grey), Harrison, Hearn, Heron, Hodgkins, Holland, Lee, Lovell, Loveridge, Scamp, Smith, Wood and Young.

How much does Andy Lee make a year? ›

Australian comedian Andy Lee makes $82,000 per month when you average out his annual salary. He has multiple sources of income and therefore, he makes more per month than most Victorians make in a year.

What is Simon Cowell's net worth? ›

He was also named one of the wealthiest people in the UK by the Sunday Times Rich List, Cowell was worth £385 million in 2019. In 2020, Cowell announced he would be writing a seven-book series titled Wishfits with his son. The series is scheduled to launch in 2023.

Where is Coco Lee from? ›

Lee was born in Hong Kong, she is the youngest of three children and was born to a Chinese Indonesian father and a Hongkong Cantonese mother. She has two elder sisters, Nancy, who was her manager before, and Carol. Her father died before she was born. When she was 9 years old, her mother brought Lee and her sisters to ...

Is Kodi Lee mentally challenged? ›

Kodi Lee was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, causing him to become legally blind. He was also diagnosed with autism at an early age, and has Addison's disease. Lee is a prodigious musical savant, a person who manifests musical abilities that would be considered extraordinary, even in a person who is not autistic.

What place did Kodi Lee get? ›

Kodi Lee is a singer and pianist from Season 14 of America's Got Talent. He was the winner of the competition, claiming the $1,000,000 prize and the headlining of a show in Las Vegas. He returned for America's Got Talent: All-Stars where he finished in the Bottom 6 of the Top 11.

What happened to Coco Lee? ›

The singer was born with a defect in her left leg and has been living in pain since her botched surgery when she was two.

Who is Coco married to? ›

How old is Coco Lee now? ›

Who is the richest judge on America's got talent? ›

Here's what we know. As mentioned, Simon is the boss on the show so it's perhaps unsurprising that he earns the most. In 2022, Celebrity Net Worth reported that he makes around $95 million for his appearance on AGT, which is an increase from 2021 when it was reported he earned around $45 million.

What did Kodi Lee win? ›

AGT Winner Kodi Lee Releases His First-Ever Music Video | NBC Insider.


1. Kodi Lee is BACK on AGT! Amazing Duet with H.E.R.
(Talent Recap)
2. KODI LEE WINS AMERICA'S GOT TALENT SEASON 14! - America's Got Talent 2019
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3. Archie Williams FREE After 37 Years Wrongly-Imprisoned For Murder Rape - Sings For JUSTICE!
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4. Blind Autistic Singer Kodi Lee is BACK on AGT All-Stars To Win Again! Heck Yeah!
(Talent Recap)
5. 8 Most Shocking SCANDALS on America's Got Talent EVER!
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6. Mzansi Youth Choir It's Okay Nightbirde Golden Buzzer | Full Performance America's Got Talent 2023


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