The vocal ability of one Cougar alumnae, in particular, has propelled her to a spot in the final round of NBC's "America's Got Talent." Opera singer Barbara Padilla, who overcame drastic odds to beat cancer and enroll at the University of Houston, is among the finalists on the top-rated television talent search program.
Padilla has consistently earned kudos from celebrity judges Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and David Hasselhoff, as well as support from viewers. On Sept. 14, she will compete for the show's grand prize of $1 million and the chance to headline her own Las Vegas show. The winner will be announced Sept. 16.
Her soothing, yet powerful, performance of "Ave Maria" during the recent semifinals amazed the judges and fans, who voted her into the finals.
"Wow!" Morgan exclaimed after hearing her sing. "Not many things leave me speechless, but that just did."
At UH's Moores School of Music, Padilla's commitment to singing inspired her fellow students and teachers. When she first enrolled, Padilla was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma. She summoned the strength to earn a scholarship and a role in the Moores Opera Center productions of Mozart's "Lafintagiardiniera." Padilla also lent her talents to the center's commercial recording of Dominick Argento's "Casanova's Homecoming." In 2004, she received a master's degree in vocal performance.
"Barbara was one of those students who brightened the days of everyone with whom she encountered," said Betsy Weber, director of the Moores Concert Chorale. "She is talented, as everyone can see. At UH, she was a cheerful, hard-working, devoted student. Those of us who were around her in those years always remember when she was battling cancer. Even with a scarf covering her head, her smile never faltered."
Just as she was an inspiration on campus, her story has given strength to millions of "America's Got Talent" viewers. More than 25 million people tuned into the semifinal round and results shows.
"When I spoke about my battle with cancer, I never thought the message would reach so many people," she said during the show's recent broadcast. "Cancer survivors have sent messages telling me that they have regained faith in their lives."
As a UH student, Padilla took top honors at the National Association of Teachers Singing competition in the advanced adults category in 2001 and sang the national anthem before a sold-out crowd at a U.S.-Mexico soccer game in Reliant Stadium.
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