‘America’s Got Talent’ crowns Season 18 winner in star-studded finale

The 2023 winner of America’s Got Talent has officially been crowned — but they’re not the act many fans expected to go home with the prize.

After intense competition, Wednesday night’s two-part finale saw Adrian Stoica and his dog Hurricane declared the champions of Season 18.

The Italian-born trainer and his dog were awarded a US$1 million (over C$1.3 million) grand prize and a headlining spot on the America’s Got Talent Presents Superstars Live! show at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

As is always the case on American’s Got Talent, Stoica and Hurricane won the competition by public vote.

Despite going up against fierce challengers like Lavender Darcangelo, a soulful singer who is blind and autistic, Stoica and Hurricane won people’s hearts with their elaborate (and expertly choreographed) routines.

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For their finale performance, the human-dog team executed an over-three-minute routine that saw Hurricane, through a variety of impressive on-command tricks, help Stoica prepare for a date with America’s Got Talent judge Sofía Vergara. Stoica and Hurricane, who have performed all over the world, used Queen’s crowd-pleaser song Crazy Little Thing Called Love as the soundtrack for their routine.

The entire act was performed without the use of treats, an incentive often used by dog trainers.

“I think in terms of stepping up from the audition to the live show, this is the best act we’ve seen tonight,” judge Simon Cowell praised following the performance. “This was live, and that was a tricky routine. She was amazing.”

Vergara, who eventually joined Stoica and Hurricane on stage during the routine, said the pooch “is ready for Vegas.”

Wednesday’s America’s Got Talent finale also had its fair share of famous guests beyond the judging panel. Musicians Jason Derulo, John Batiste, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Leona Lewis were in attendance, alongside Iron Chef‘s Cat Cora and American songwriter Diane Warren.

Cowell, a known dog lover himself, admitted to People magazine that despite his fondness for Stoica and Hurricane, their win came as “a bit of a surprise.”

“You can’t please everyone — there were people who were disappointed, people who were surprised, but it’s a public vote, and their act last night was amazing,” he said of the trainer and his dog. “So, a bit of a surprise, but I’m happy. I would’ve been happy with anyone winning from last night, if I’m being honest with you.”

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Cowell told the outlet his nine-year-old son Eric, who was present to watch the finale on Wednesday, was “thrilled” to see Stoica and Hurricane take home the winning title.

Stoica told Entertainment Tonight that he and Hurricane would be celebrating with “a long, long walk and going home and just sleeping for two days, because we’re very tired!”

Stoica and Hurricane faced 10 other acts in the finale and came out victorious despite the unrivalled talent among the bunch.

The top five acts, alongside Stoica and Hurricane, were the Ramadhani Brothers, a head-balancing duo, the singer Putri Ariani, magician Anna DeGuzman and the dance troop Murmuration.

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Stoica and Hurricane are the second-ever animal act to win America’s Got Talent. Olate Dogs, an act featuring a father-and-son dog training duo, were crowned as winners of Season 7 in 2012.

Winners of American’s Got Talent don’t receive US$1 million outright. As per a disclaimer that ends at the end of each episode, “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.”

The winner can opt to receive the annual pre-tax payout of $25,000 per year for 40 years or accept a lump sum payment for their prize, totaling around US$300,000 (nearly C$404,500) before taxes, Forbes reported.

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