When the pandemic hit, Johnny Showcase was ready to give up the funk.
After 15 years of performing venues across Philadelphia and “enough sweat in the game to fill up a swimming pool,” the South Philly funk ensemble front man told NBC10′s Aunyea Lachelle that the coronavirus shutdown signaled the end to his illustrious live performance career.
”And then I get an email from America’s Got Talent,” Showcase, 40, told NBC10. “And it was like a hole got kicked in ... the wall and all the sunlight just hit me.”
Now, the jumpsuit and gold jewelry-clad singer is back in the game, and winning over judges on Season 16 of America’s Got Talent.
This week, Showcase — also known as David Sweeney — took the AGT stage with his Philly-based bandmates, including “spiritual adviser” Rumi Kitchen (also known as James Michael Baker), as well as Tabitha Allen and Rachel Camp, two stone-faced vocalists known collectively as “The Truth.” Before a live audience in Los Angeles, the group performed “Sensual,” a none-too-serious original song. And the crowd went wild.
Despite a rocky introduction to the America’s Got Talent judges in which Showcase was met with silence and dubious side-eyes after he said he envisioned himself as the cartoon cat in Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” music video, things quickly warmed up as the ensemble began two-stepping to the groovy tongue-in-cheek track all about being “sensual, but not sexual, because I’m married.”
By the end of the two-minute performance, the judges, including the notoriously hard-to-please Simon Cowell, were on their feet, unanimously voting the group to go to the next round.
“You were so annoying, and then the act started and it was brilliant,” Cowell said. “One of my favorite acts, I’m going to be honest with you, this year.”
Meanwhile, judge Howie Mandel called the performance “kitschy” and said it “makes you smile, makes you want to sing along.”
The excitement was mutual, Showcase told NBC10.
“Just to be in that space to be in the theater, to hear the crowd ... I felt like I was levitating,” he said.
Showcase, a Rhode Island native and self-described “entertainer, singer, songwriter, mover, shaker, music-maker, part-time lover, full-time parent,” got his start in Philadelphia performing his character with the Lefty Lucy Cabaret in 2007. The Showcase character was originally a humorous “celebration of mediocrity,” he previously told The Inquirer, but eventually became “more of a legit funk act with the theater approach giving us that ‘duende’ that’s hard to find.”
In 2018, the lounge singer branched into children’s music, performing family-friendly funkadelic numbers under the moniker “Johnny Shortcake.”
Now, he’s focused on winning over the America’s Got Talent crowd.
“They say, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it,’” he said. “Well, I’ve been faking it for a long time. And this time, I think I’m gonna make it.”