Alex Hooper peels back the curtain on his two runs through America’s Got Talent, the summer competition series broadcast in primetime by NBC, in a new essay, “Playing the Game on Hard Mode.”

Going on TV can be a nerve-wracking experience for any performer. It’s a huge moment and now, thanks to our good friend and worst enemy, The Internet, anything you do on that screen will live forever. I’ve worked my tiny ass off to get those opportunities and no matter the circumstances, I have to kill it. Every time.

Being on America’s Got Talent is massive. Every year 75,000 people audition. Around 400 get to go in front of the judges and from that group only a little over a hundred will ever make it to air. You can get a standing ovation and four “Yes’” votes from the judges only to have your performance never see the light of day. You won’t get a phone call. You’re simply in limbo, having no idea why they didn’t showcase you. I’ve seen it happen to phenomenal artists.

I’m fortunate to not only have been on the show in 2018 but to have been invited back in 2020 to do it all over again. While I’m incredibly grateful to the show for allowing me to be myself, my individual scenarios have been absolutely horrifying by comedian standards.

Let’s start in 2018. I walk on a stage that is lit as brightly as can be, with the entire theatre illuminated as well. Comedy happens in the dark for a reason. It’s easier to laugh when you feel anonymous. It also makes it easy for me to not be able to see every single face, but rather feel a general vibe from the room and play off that. But that’s not what happens at AGT. You can see every set of braces reflecting directly into your eyes. 

Already, you’re at a disadvantage as a comedian. These people don’t go to clubs so the only comedy they know is watered down, family-friendly, producer approved jokes. No subtlety, no high-brow thoughtful humor. You have two minutes to prove to them you’re as worthy as a dance team that blows fire while doing backflips. 

When the booing began, I knew I was finished. There was no winning. There was only survival. The cacophony of the crowd yelling, the horrific sound of those buzzers, the judges disapproving taunts: all of it combined to form an explosion of noise so loud I couldn’t even hear my thoughts. I was humbled, ridiculed, and even though I pranced off that stage with my tail between my legs, I was shaken to my core. It felt like the worst bomb of my entire life. 

Some people would have quit. Most would have never gone back. Why would anyone choose to subject themselves to that level of torture…AGAIN?

I’ll tell you exactly why. Once you face something like that and come out on the other side, a feeling of fearlessness takes over your psyche. It can’t possibly get any worse, right? Wrong.

Read the rest of Hooper’s essay on his website to find out how his 2020 AGT experience went.