Rock ‘n’ roll has a new savior, and his name is Bonavega. When the glam-rock starman hit the America’s Got Talent stage Tuesday all oiled up like Mr. Universe, rocking a barely-there sequined monokini, flaming Alice Cooper eye makeup, and a lush El DeBarge mullet that would make Crystal Methyd from RuPaul’s Drag Race weep with envy, he seemed like a joke contestant. But it turns out the 31-year-old super-trouper (real name: Branden Wilbarger) was as serious as a Sheer Heart Attack.
Tearing through his aptly titled original “Overdrive,” in the space of 90 thrilling seconds the outlandish Ohioan managed to run into the audience, peacock-strut back and forth across the judges’ desk while slapping his own sparkly butt, pelvis-thrust like a Chippendales dancer mere inches from Simon Cowell’s startled face, and play a shredding electric guitar solo. It was a little bit Justin Hawkins, a little bit Har Mar Superstar, a little bit Eagles of Death Metal, a little bit Scissor Sisters, and little bit Andrew W.K.… and a whole lot of awesome. The crowd went wild — and, surprisingly, so did the judges, who unanimously put him through.
“When I saw you wearing that, I thought, ‘This is going to be a joke,’” admitted Howie Mandel. “And so far this season, you are my biggest surprise. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s camp, it’s theater — and you have a mullet!” (Clearly, with that outfit and that showmanship, Bonavega had a party going on in the back and in the front.)
“Honestly, when you walked out, I thought you were going to get four X’s in about one second,” said Cowell. “But then I looked around and I could see the audience loved you. So this was fun. I’m going to remember you. I’m curious see where this is going to end up.”
I am curious too, especially since Bonavega had vowed that if he advanced on AGT, he would “keep turning it up a notch” when he already seemed to be cranking it past 11. But there was something immensely likable about him (“I just love everything about you,” judge Heidi Klum gushed), and the timing for this child of the revolution seems perfect right about now. “I really like performing obnoxiously. I like to do that to be a bit of an escape for people watching. We can all disappear together,” Bonavega declared with a glittery grin.
Bonavega, like many wacky AGT auditioners, might seem like a novelty act, but a quick browse through his YouTube channel indicates that he’s the real rawkin’ deal. I’m ready to see him ride a white swan all the way to the Season 15 finale.