17-year-old Putri Ariani stunned the audience during her audition in the 18th season of “America’s Got Talent” – “AGT”. The blind Indonesian singer’s incredible performance that night earned her the highly coveted Golden Buzzer from judge Simon Cowell, and as its video went viral, it gained her international acclaim, and she was much celebrated in her home country. Regardless of the result of the talent competition show, which is currently airing, it’s evident that her future in the music industry is bright.

Get to know Putri Ariani

Ariani Nisma Putri was born on 31 December 2005, in Bangkinang, a town in the Riau Province of Indonesia, to Ismawan Kurnianto and Reni Alfianty. She has two younger sisters named Vania Larissa and Devina Elysia. Her mother, Reni, had placenta previa causing her to give birth to Putri at six months and 18 days of gestation, so Putri was placed in an incubator for three months, and was diagnosed with cataracts. Her parents brought her to Singapore for treatment, but the doctor’s diagnosis of her condition was retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), an eye disease affecting premature babies in which the retina developed abnormally. If the condition is mild, it can be resolved, but a more serious one can lead to blindness. In her case, she underwent surgery on the right eye to save it, but it was unsuccessful and so she was declared completely blind at three months old.

She was two when she began singing as she imitated the sounds she heard. As her parents recognized her potential and natural talent for music, they gave their full support in nurturing her gift. She attended a classical music school called SMKN 2 Kasihan in Yogyakarta, and majored in Instrumental Music with Flute as her specialization.

Joined talent search competitions

Putri loved to sing from when she was little, but as talented as she was, things haven’t been easy for her. There was a time when she joined a singing competition at a young age, but faced discrimination for being blind, her talent apparently not being taken seriously because of her disability. Since that time, she worked hard and was determined to prove herself, and what she was capable of, so that no one would underestimate people with disabilities.

She was eight when she participated in season two of “Indonesia’s Got Talent” in 2014, and sang Beyonce’s “Listen” for her audition. The judges were teary-eyed while she was performing, and the audience was up on their feet by the time she hit the last note. All the judges gave her their ‘Yes’ votes and she went on to the next round of the competition. She wowed them each time she was on stage, and before she knew it, she was crowned as the winner for that season. In 2016, she won the Baiduri Award for the most outstanding child singer category.

In 2017, she joined another talent competition show, “The Voice Kids Indonesia,” for its second season in which she played the keyboard and sang “Secret Love Song” originally sung by Little Mix featuring Jason Derulo during the blind auditions. The coaches listened to a performance facing away from the stage to prevent bias – if they liked what they heard, they would press the “I Want You” button that would rotate their chairs to indicate that they wanted to work with that aspiring singer. If no one turned, then it meant the contestant failed the audition. Fortunately for Putri, one of the judges turned for her, and she became part of Bebi Romeo’s team, however, she didn’t make it past the Sing-Off round.

Released her debut single and album

In January 2018, she dropped her debut single, “I Love Mama N Papa,” and in October 2020, released her debut album, “Melihat Dengan Hati” (“Seeing With the Heart”) with seven songs on it. Over the years, she’s released around 30 songs on streaming platforms, of which the most successful was “Tak Mampu Lupa” (“Can’t Forget”) released in 2022, a Mandarin song, which she translated into Bahasa Indonesian – it has more than 12 million streams on Spotify.

Background on “America’s Got Talent”

“America’s Got Talent” (“AGT”) was created by Simon Cowell to provide aspiring performers including magicians, comedians, dancers and singers a chance to shine on a global stage. The televised talent competition consisted of many rounds beginning with the audition followed by the judge cuts, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. For the audition phase, three ‘Yes’ votes from the judges were needed to pass. Later on, each participant or act must secure votes not just from a panel of judges but also from the studio audience and the viewing public for their every performance to advance to the next round, until one reached the finals. The winner will take home the prize money of $1 million, reportedly given over a period of time, and have an opportunity to headline “AGT”’s live show in the Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas.

Produced by Fremantle USA, the reality show is currently in its 18th season which premiered on 30 May 2023 on NBC; it was available for streaming the next day on Peacock. The show is hosted by Terry Crews, and the judges are Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel.

Putri Ariani on “AGT”

She has achieved some level of success in her home country, but like any other singer who dreamed of making it big in the US, she joined AGT. She listened to the show for most of her life, and hoped that she would someday be part of it; for her, “AGT” was the door to the next level. Putri was excited, as it was her first time in the US and performing in front of an international audience. She set a high goal for herself, as she wanted to become an acclaimed singer and win a Grammy someday. That said, going to “AGT” wasn’t just about winning, but how she could inspire or influence others like her – those with the same disability and those living in developing countries – to reach for their dreams.

Scored a Golden Buzzer from Simon Cowell

One of the highlights of “AGT” is the Golden Buzzer, which would send an act or a performer straight to the Live Shows. This button can only be pressed once by each judge and the host per season. For the Season 18 premiere, the first ever Audience Golden Buzzer was handed out to Mzansi Youth Choir from South Africa for their performance of “It’s Okay”, originally sung by Nightbirde from Season 16 of “AGT”.

Fortunately for Putri Ariani, she got the second Golden Buzzer for the season from Simon Cowell – in the show’s June 6 episode, the Indonesian singer gave a touching rendition of “Loneliness,” which much to the surprise of everyone, was an original song that she’d written herself.

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The audience along with the judges loved her performance. Simon, however, caused some confusion as he went onstage and approached Putri, who was still seated at a piano bench; her father hurriedly came over to meet and assist him. It turned out that Simon found her voice amazing, and just asked if she could sing another song. She eagerly complied, and was happy that she could share ‘more emotions’ with the audience. She began to play the piano and belted out Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” which totally captivated the crowd who gave her a standing ovation.

Clearly mesmerized by her voice, Sofia told her how amazing she was and called her an angel. Howie agreed as he said that while many people didn’t believe in angels, he thought one just landed on the “AGT” stage, and called Putri a superstar. Heidi praised her, saying that she sounded beautiful. Simon commented that the judges were all feeling the same thing about her. He told her, ‘You’re 17, you write songs, you’ve got an amazing distinctive voice, and I mean really, really good. You have kind of a glow about you.’ He then stood up and pressed the Golden Buzzer. When he was later asked by the host why he did that, Simon simply said, ‘Because she’s brilliant.’ Putri was crying and jumping for joy as the gold confetti rained down on her. Her elated parents got on stage to give her a hug. Simon went there as well, and told her that he thought that she was one of the best singers they have ever had on the show.

Putri said she couldn’t find the right words to express how magical that moment was for her, and how grateful she was. It has definitely become one of the unforgettable moments of her life.

Went viral online

Right after her appearance in the show, she was much talked about online. US Ambassador to Indonesia, Sung Kim congratulated her via Twitter for her amazing performance. Indonesia Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno said that Putri made their country proud, and went on to congratulate her parents as it was with their support and belief in her talent that she made it to the “AGT” stage. A video of her performance reportedly garnered 30 million views in six days.

Hoped that Simon would help her become a superstar

Getting that nod of approval from Simon Cowell was all the more special, because it turned out that Putri wished to work with him, revealing in an interview that she wanted to become a superstar and tour the world, saying that he was a great producer who knew how to turn someone into a successful singer. Putri was confident that with Simon’s help, that dream of hers would come true.

On writing her own songs

People were impressed when they learned that she was the lyricist and composer of her songs. Putri said it came from her heart – she just wrote what she was feeling. When asked about the meaning behind the song “Loneliness,” released in 2021 and which she sang during her “AGT” audition, she said that it was about thinking that something was good for her but actually wasn’t.

Indonesian President Widodo gave Putri pocket money for her return to “AGT”

As she passed her audition and earned the Golden Buzzer, Putri brought pride to her country. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo himself congratulated the singer via an Instagram post, writing ‘What Princess Ariani has achieved today may inspire and encourage everyone that all dreams and goals can be achieved with perseverance, hard work, and confidence in one’s own abilities.’

Upon her return to Indonesia, she was invited to the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on 14 June 2023 for an audience with the President – she came with her parents and showed the President a glass box containing the gold confetti from her Golden Buzzer moment, after which she performed two of her songs – “Loneliness” and “Permata Indah Dunia” (Beautiful Jewels of the World) – for him and the other officials present. He said that the Golden Buzzer was a testament to her amazing talent and the ultimate recognition from Simon Cowell, who had good instincts and was never wrong.

He gave her an envelope containing pocket money for her expenditures in the US when she returned for the “AGT” Live Shows and assured her of the country’s full support in her journey. Putri was quite overwhelmed by the whole experience, saying that she had no idea that she would be appreciated by the President. It said much that three videos of her visit to the State Palace were uploaded onto his Instagram account, and two were on his YouTube Channel. President Jokowi planned to have her perform at the palace again for the celebration of the nation’s independence on the 17th of August, should her schedule permit it.

Putri received a full scholarship for her dream school

During her “AGT” audition, she mentioned wanting to go to Juilliard School, a performing arts conservatory in New York City. Judge Simon said he didn’t know if what he was about to do would make a difference or not, but he did it anyway, and slapped that Golden Buzzer with his palm, and it did in a way.

The Education Minister in Indonesia, Nadiem Makarim, announced that the department offered Putri a full scholarship should she get admitted to Juilliard School, saying that as she inspired a lot of people in their country, they wanted to help her realize this particular dream of hers. Reportedly, they would also extend assistance with her application, by providing a letter of recommendation from the Ministry of Education.

Despite being bullied, she never gave up and she never will

Growing up with a disability was hard, but it was made even worse by the bullying she received. Since one eye was smaller than the other, Putri was often asked why her eyes were different from ‘real humans.’ Annoyed by this, she replied by asking them if they thought she was a mannequin or an alien. Being the target of bullying, she said that she ended up just having two friends, who weren’t spared from harsh words either, even accused of having an ulterior motive for getting close to Putri. However, she defended them, and said that they were sincere in their friendship as they had been there for her even before she became popular. She said that quality was more important than quantity in having friends.

Things hadn’t changed even after her “AGT” appearance, as not everyone was happy about that. Some took it against her that she was not American, when the show was clearly “America’s Got Talent.” They also believed that having a sob story, referring to her visual impairment, was why she received the Golden Buzzer. There were those who found it questionable that a professional singer like her was able to compete in “AGT” and called it unfair. Someone even made fun of her name and asked who would name their child ‘Putrid.’ Fortunately, a fan corrected that person, and even shared that the name ‘Putri’ meant ‘princess’ or ‘daughter’ in Indonesia. It wasn’t revealed if she knew about the hateful comments online, or if her parents were protecting her from all of this.

Her fans believed that she wouldn’t let it affect her even if she had heard about it. She once said that when she started uploading her own music and covers on her YouTube Channel, Instagram, and TikTok, many would leave hurtful words, calling her delusional and incapable, but she never gave up because she has family and friends who believe in her. During her performance at the TEDxUniversitasIndonesia, which was an independently organized TED event, she was resolute and filled with confidence as she said, ‘I will never give up because I know that I’m invincible, not invisible. I’m capable. I’m powerful. I’m brave. I’m spectacular.’

As a person with a disability, her biggest challenge was for people to look beyond that when they see her and recognize her talent as a musician. Putri said she was excited to do the “AGT” Live shows, and her international fans couldn’t wait to hear her sing again. Her fans in Indonesia were more fortunate, as she appeared in several local shows including “Indonesia’s Got Talent” where it all began for her – she sang “Loneliness” and performed a duet with one of the judges.

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