What was Simon going to say?
That’s what lead singer Michael Gaines wondered anxiously when the NFL Players Choir wrapped up their audition on the national television show “America’s Got Talent.”
The 12-person vocal group had performed their version of Bill Withers’ 1972 classic “Lean On Me” for celebrity judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara and an NBC studio audience on Tuesday, June 14.
What Simon says matters.
“The TV makes him the bad guy, but he’s a music savvy — he knows his notes, he knows his music,” said Gaines, a former two-sport star at Florida High who played seven seasons in the NFL and co-founded the NFL. Players Choir before retiring almost 15 years ago.
“Really, my eyes were on Simon and his facial expressions.”
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The group received enthusiastic applause from the audience and a positive initial reaction from the judges.
Cowell then surprised Gaines, his fellow performers and the audience when he asked for an encore – but this time without a musical track.
The group, which does not feature a band or rehearse with one, was prepared as if it were NFL Sunday.
He enthusiastically sang an a cappella version of “Lean on Me”.
The audience erupted in joy and the three judges each offered a resounding yes to send the chorus of NFL players to the next round of taping in August. The show features a variety of acts competing for a chance to win a $1 million prize.
“Your energy and your story is just amazing,” Cowell told Gaines and the band. “Your competitor. I can tell you really want to win and I love that. (We’re not going to) give you three yeses…
“But three thousand yes.”
“ALWAYS READY TO PROTECT HIS TEAM”
Gaines, 42, who resides in Orlando, played football and basketball at Florida High.
Gaines originally wanted to play wide receiver for the Seminoles. However, coach Mike Hickman moved Gaines to the tight end, where the 6-foot-2, 260-pounder was an all-state performer and signed a scholarship with Central Florida.
Gaines’ athleticism, strength and blocking abilities earned him an opportunity in professional football.
The Carolina Panthers drafted him in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft. Gaines also played for the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, finishing with 84 receptions in career for 869 yards and six touchdowns.
“Michael was the best blocker I ever coached in any position – that’s why I thought he would be successful in the NFL,” Hickman said. “He was a fun-loving young man and everyone enjoyed being around him. He increased the practice because of his enthusiasm.
Gaines also helped Florida High’s basketball team, which included guard Brett Blizzard and center Mike Mathews, to a second-place finish.
It was on a bus ride after a Seminoles road win that Blizzard, who played at UNC-Wilmington and played professionally in Europe, first heard Gaines sing. Gaines and Mathews, who played basketball at Florida State, often took their tom-toms with them on the team bus.
“Mike started singing Al Green’s ‘Tired of Being Alone’ and he sounded like him,” said Blizzard, who also appreciated Gaines’ friendship and was impressed with his abilities.
“Mike is the type of guy who would do anything for his teammates and was always ready to protect his team. I still vividly remember him yelling ‘get him here’ so he could put a ball screen about a guy who was stalking me. What’s crazy is that he focused on football and made the NFL.
“If he had just focused on basketball, there’s no doubt he could have made a run for the NBA. That’s how talented he was.”
HIGH ON MUSIC
Gaines’ love of music came from his time spent at New Bethlehem Church on Bannerman Road, singing with the gospel choir in primary school.
Music has continued to inspire him over the years.
Towards the end of his professional career (2004-2010), Gaines co-founded the NFL Players Choir with former NFL player Tommy Harris in 2008.
The group includes more than 60 current and former NFL players, including Florida A&M’s Olrick Johnson. Johnson, 44, who played two seasons (2009-10) in the NFL, did not sing with the band on AGT.
The choir’s goal is to raise funds and awareness for charities and “spread light and joy” around the world, according to members.
He has performed at the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration every year, singing alongside contemporary R&B singer-songwriter Erica Campbell last year. The band also performed the national anthem at the February 2022 Pro Bowl in Las Vegas.
Gaines said he hadn’t heard of “America’s Got Talent” until the choir was invited last spring to audition on the TV show. However, Gaines quickly discovered the show’s global impact. It opened season 17 last month with 6.1 million total viewers.
“We weren’t looking for a break, but I think we finally got one,” Gaines said with a laugh.
The choir was the final act of the June 14 episode, hosted by actor and former NFL player Terry Crews. The band performed not once, but twice for celebrity judges and audiences.
Naturally, Cowell – the creator of the Got Talent franchises and a prominent figure in the music industry as a former record producer, consultant and talent scout – sets the tone for the show with his reviews of acts and his often gruff on-air persona.
Gaines has described Cowell as the “Bill Belichick of music” in reference to the six-time Super Bowl champion coach of the New England Patriots.
“Singing for the public is fun,” Gaines explained.
“As a singer, you know how to rock the crowd. I wasn’t nervous on stage. The nerves come when you’re judged. Especially by Simon. That’s why I kept my eyes on him. I I have a lot of respect for Simon. The show was a great experience. We had a lot of fun.
Contact Jim Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.