The “America's Got Talent” Season 12 finals opened on Tuesday, September 19, with much more than the million-dollar prize on the line. The futures of these distinctive performers are already transformed forever from the experience of this competition. Their performances in the finals not only become part of history for “America's Got Talent,” but they will also be the start of defining them as artists. Emotion overpowered all on the judges’ panel, but as Howie Mandel pointed out, a theme seemed to dominate the night, and that theme was strength.

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High marks and barks

Being the first to feel the pressure of wowing from the stage didn’t seem to be any problem for 10-year-old Angelica Hale, who just became a big sister to baby Abigail.

The girl with the “huge pipes” that fit into her small body, as Chris Hardwick described, dove right into “Symphony” by Clean Bandit. She hit even more big notes, and seemed less emotional, exuding true stage confidence. Heidi Klum called her “a giant.” Howie Mandel teased that even though she was the opener, she showed how to “close a show.” Simon Cowell credited Angelica in making her own song choices, while Mel B marveled at her confidence in taking the stage. There are more stages to come for this singing sister.

Sara Carson and her dogs, Hero and Loki, made the “America's Got Talent” stage their speedway, and gave it all they had, despite hitting a few speed bumps thanks to very slippery surfaces. The racing stunts and spirits still displayed pure devotion and training mastery. Simon Cowell called the performance “incredible” and was “speechless” in proud support of the courageous Sara and her pups.

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Heidi Klum concurred that Sara was the hero, and Howie insisted that the minor mistakes made the high-paced routine more exciting. Bets are on that Sara and her dogs won’t have to sleep in her car for a long time to come after this finish.

Singer-songwriter Chase Goehring remained authentically himself as well. He chose another powerful original song, “Mirror,” that could have fit in perfectly with last weekend's Emmy awards, with its plea for self-acceptance and appreciation of beauty, in all its forms, shapes, and shades. Every judge on the panel praised Chase as much for his conviction as his talent, and it won't be anytime before we are hearing more of the music and rap beats from his soul.

Rising high and hilarity

Diavolo, the dance-construction act that Howie Mandel called “carpentry meets choreography,” delivered another display of their skill and daring. This time, a doorway opened the performance, and dancers seemed to cling to nothing as the door opened to sleek slides. The familiar “rocking arc” used by the performers previously was part of the climax, only this time, seeming to stand up almost fully vertical before the dancers were tossed and twirled from the heights.

It was completely mesmerizing and truly a spectacle. Mel B called it “extraordinary,” after searching for a word. Heidi Klum said she could not wait for America to see this act “live,” and that she would be attending “again and again.” Simon Cowell urged that Las Vegas agents should “book these guys,” and Howie called for votes, saying that the heights that these performers scale deserves attention.

Evie Clair can still feel her dad’s loving cheers and support, only now, his energy beams from heaven, since he lost his battle with cancer last week. Celebrating the music that always drew her family together, Evie sang the classic, “What a Wonderful World,” and everyone gathered at the Dolby Theatre felt it as a gift to her father. The song seemed completely her own, and never sang in any other way but hers in that moment. Howie Mandel reminded that hearts and souls are reaching out to the singer and her family. Heidi Klum commending her as “brave” and Simon Cowell gave “respect” for the performance as “a perfect tribute” to her father.

Comedian Preacher Lawson pushed some boundaries with his routine centered around an encounter with a naked (not really naked, wearing socks) stranger. It was more daring than his previous material, but still so razor-sharp and rapid in its mix of commentary and ripping comedy. Preacher performed a dance that no one could resist and seemed to go on forever. The dance is sure to spark office place conversation this morning. “You're everything that inspires me about comedy,” Howie Mandel praised. Mel B said her cheeks were still killing her from laughter. Simon Cowell insisted that “tonight will change your life” because some agent will call after this performance or the British judge pledged “I will eat my hand.” Preacher wanted to get that on film.

Time for triumph

Heavenly singer and inspiring survivor Kechi could not have chosen a more appropriate or powerful song than “Conqueror” from TV’s “Empire” for her finals performance. She really didn't need the help of backup singers. Her heartfelt, soaring notes made it clear that she had come to the place of knowing her own strength, as a performer and as a young woman with a destiny. The mother of one of the victims who perished in the plane that both she and Kechi flew on expressed the joy and courage that are imparted by Kechi’s voice. Her soul and her song are not to be forgotten and need to be felt by the whole world, as the panel expressed. Heidi promised she would never forget Kechi, and Simon reminded that “you did it,” assuring her that she had become an artist.

Ventriloquist Darci Lynne has all the support she could ever wish for from all ages. She has inspired followers from all over the globe to try their hand at manipulating a puppet of their own while throwing voices. Social media nearly screams that Darci is the odds-on favorite to take this year's “America's Got Talent” contest, but the girl who's only been studying ventriloquism for two years wasn't taking any chances. She put on a three-way demonstration of a show-stopping performance of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends.” She won the roar of the night from the crowd and ovation from the panel. Mel B had one word for her golden buzzer girl: “INCREDIBLE.” Heidi Klum proclaimed “you may have won, and Simon Cowell agreed. Nothing is a given, and the tally still can surprise. Darci probably will not have many free days on her calendar for a very long time.

Mandy Harvey hit strongly on inspiration, too. She stood by her original songs with another, called “This Time,” retelling a crucial choice that she made to get up and run instead of lying down and letting life pass by. Simon Cowell said that he was becoming “a washing machine” because of so much emotion in the performances. He reminded Mandy “you can win.” Howie Mandel said that the theme of the evening should be “#strength.” Mel B was not a fan of the song.

Illumination dancers Light Balance brought the house down with a fast and furious performance that captured the feel of Transformers on parade. The panel agreed that it was the group’s best ever endeavor, and being last may benefit them in the vote.

The performer who takes the “America's Got Talent” ultimate prize will be revealed tonight, and there is a star-studded lineup of performers to enhance the celebration.