It was a rendition of “Summertime” nobody saw coming.
When 12-year-old ventriloquist Darci Lynne’s puppet Petunia, a white bunny with giant pink, fuzzy ears, belted out George Gershwin’s classic song on “America’s Got Talent” in 2017, jaws dropped around the country. The Oklahoma City preteen, once a beauty pageant winner, went on to win season 12 of the TV talent show, scoring a $1 million prize and a headline gig at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
Since then, the now almost 15-year-old has done one national tour; starred in and hosted her own holiday TV special, “Darci Lynne: My Hometown Christmas”; and graced the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, among other appearances.
Her family-friendly “Fresh Out of the Box Tour” comes to Pikes Peak Center on Sunday. She promises her whole four-puppet family will be there with songs from all genres, including opera and Broadway.
“I’ve stayed pretty grounded,” said Lynne from Oklahoma, where she’s homeschooled. “My life has changed, but I’ve stayed the same. I’m the same old Darci. My family keeps me very grounded. We still live in Oklahoma. Still living the dream.”
That dream grew roots when she was 9 or 10 and competing in a pageant, where a fellow competitor’s ventriloquism act astounded her. She’d never heard of the old stagecraft.
“I was gobsmacked. Amazed. I wanted to try it,” she said. “When you’re a kid, you always like to play pretend and use your imagination. This was one of the most fun jobs you could ever have — talking to puppets for the rest of your life.”
Her newfound obsession found her learning tongue twisters and staring into the bathroom mirror as she practiced doing them with her mouth shut. She watched old-time ventriloquists on YouTube and began to work with a coach, whom she still studies with today.
“Her style is flawless. She is, at 12 years old, one of the most unbelievable, perfect ventriloquists I’ve ever seen, and she’ll only get better,” said fellow ventriloquist Terry Fator in a 2017 USA Today story; Fator won season two of “America’s Got Talent” in 2007.
Before she was a stoic-mouthed ventriloquist, though, Lynne was a child who loved to sing. The only problem? She was painfully shy and couldn’t share her voice with anybody outside of her family. Puppetry was the ideal find at an opportune time.
“It was hard to look people in the eye or shake hands,” she said. “At home I had a big rambunctious personality. I was an outgoing person. Doing ventriloquism and talking to puppets helped me express myself and come out of my shell. It was a big bonus.”
Keeping the art of ventriloquism alive is important to Lynne, even if it doesn’t wind up being her lifelong career. She talks some about foregoing the puppets in the future and focusing on singing, maybe pop or country songs, but for now, she loves what she does.
“This art has been dying,” said Lynne. “For someone as young as me and female, too, to start doing it and inspire others to try it, it’s a cool thing. If more people start doing it, it’ll stay alive. It’s such a fun thing. It’s something better to do than stare at a screen and play video games.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270