America's Got Talent (AGT) star Nightbirde has died after a battle with cancer. The 31-year-old was a standout as soon as she took to the stage during the season 16 auditions of America's Got Talent (AGT) and continued to inspire the world with her story of strength as she fought the disease.
Nightbirde, whose real name was Jane Marczewski, died on Saturday after being diagnosed with cancer in 2017.
“Those who knew her enjoyed her larger-than-life personality and sense of humor. She had a witty joke for every occasion — even if the joke was on her. Her lasting legacy will be the gift of hope she communicated through music and the strength she found in Jesus,” reads a statement released by her family.
Tributes have poured out from around the world, including those from her AGT family.
“We are saddened to learn about @_nightbirde's Passing. Our Condolences goes to her Closest Family & Friends in such of This difficult time. We Love you, Nightbirde,” host Terry Crews shared on Instagram Monday.
“We love you. Rest in peace @_nightbirde,” judge Heidi Klum posted to her Instagram story.
“@_nightbirde was such a bright inspirational light in all our lives. We must continue to live and learn from her words and lyrics. As much as I feel horribly about her passing I feel lucky to have met, heard and known her,” judge Howie Mandel took to Twitter.
“Rest in power @_nightbirde. We lost a shining star today you were a true inspiration to all. Sending so much love to all of Nightbirde's family and friends. She was something special,” judge Sofia Vergara said on her Instagram story.
Nightbirde's last Instagram post from January, 12 expresses the “pretty brutal” time she experienced with the disease but, despite the pain and frailty in her body, she remained positive and with a smile on her face.
She found fame as a young woman with a bright smile who sang her way into the hearts of audiences around the world, captivating even notoriously acerbic judge Simon Cowell with her velvet voice and unique style.
But it wasn’t only her voice that moved the AGT judges – it was her inspiring tale of courage that brought them to tears and helped the video of her audition go viral around the world.
Nightbirde sang Okay, a song she wrote about her gruelling cancer battle and how she sought joy in the face of extreme adversity.
“It’s important that everyone knows that I’m so much more than the bad things that happen to me,” she said.
“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”
Simon was so moved he gave her the golden buzzer, which automatically sent her into the next round of the competition.
But Nightbirde had to withdraw from the talent search. Her metastatic breast cancer had spread to many parts of her body, including her bones, and she’d become so frail weighing just 38,5 kg.
“Since my audition, my health has taken a turn for the worse and the fight with cancer is demanding all of my energy and attention,” she said.
“I bet you never saw someone win so hard and lose so hard at the same time. This isn’t how the story was supposed to go.”
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She didn't let her advanced cancer diagnosis stop her from living, though. She had been going for cancer treatment and was getting back to doing what she loved: singing.
She shared an update on social media along with a picture of herself sitting beside the black and whites of a keyboard.
“I’ll be better soon,” she said optimistically. “I’m planning my future, not my legacy. Yeah, I’m pretty beat up, but I’ve still got dreams.”
Nightbirde, whose real name is Jane Marczewski, has had several run-ins with cancer. Her world turned upside down when she was first diagnosed in 2017 at the age of 26 after finding a lump in her breast.
In the months that followed, she underwent chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery. She was delighted when she was declared cancer free a year later.
Her joy turned to dread when she discovered the cancer had returned on New Year’s Eve 2019.
This time around, it was more aggressive. Doctors found multiple tumors on her liver, lungs, lymph nodes, ribs and spine and she was given just three to six months to live.
She was dealt a double blow when her musician husband, Jeremy Antonio Claudio, left her after five years of marriage.
“Soon after the diagnosis, my husband informed me he no longer wanted to be married,” she said.
The trauma of it all took a toll on her and led to what she described as a “catastrophic” mental breakdown.
“I barely spoke, ate, or moved from my bed for several months,” she recalled.
“My brain was sending false signals of excruciating pain, and my brain’s ability to process stress and emotion was functioning at just 8%.”
Yet Nightbirde picked up the pieces. She moved from Nashville, Tennessee, to Long Beach, California, where she underwent more treatment at an integrative medicine centre.
She also decided to audition for AGT in April all on her own, without telling any of her family members.
“I didn’t want to cause a stir because I didn’t know if they’d like me to sing or if I’d get on TV, so I just thought, ‘I’m going to do it and then if it becomes something we can discuss it’,” she recalled.
Her bold move paid off – not only did she receive the coveted golden buzzer, but her performance has since garnered 36 million views on YouTube.
She was stunned by the reaction.
“‘It’s okay’ is something I’ve been saying to myself through the whole situation. It’s the story of the last year of my life,” she shared.
“It was a song I wrote in the middle of the night for myself when I needed it. It’s beautiful to see the world welcome that song into its dark night.”
Nightbirde’s song is one of the most downloaded songs in America. She’s also released four more tracks, all of which shot to the top of the charts.
She grew up in a small Ohio town with her parents, Mitchell and Sharon, and her six siblings, Jason, John, Michael, Mitch Jr, Andrew and Katelyn.
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Her family is super-conservative, she said, which has influenced her music.
“If you listen for it and look for it, you’ll see Jesus all over it,” she says. “You’ll find it there, but I’m not just writing music for people that believe the way I believe.”
Through her songs she hoped to convey a message of hope. Even her stage name communicates hope. She said she chose Nightbirde because she dreamed about birds singing in darkness for three straight nights.
“I want to be the bird that sings in anticipation of the good things that I trust are coming.”
Her unwavering faith kept her going through the dark days. Nightbirde had seven dots tattooed on her right forearm, which represents a verse in the Bible that says a righteous person falls seven times and gets back up again.
Her cancer was terminal, and she admitted she was afraid of dying. But staring death in the face made her take more risks, she said.
She had hoped that one day she'd return to the AGT stage but in the meantime, continued to use her voice to spread love and positivity.
“The note that I’ve been given to sing in the orchestra of life is short and insignificant, she says. “But I want to sing it well.”
SOURCES: CNN.COM, GOODHOUSEKEEPING.COM, DAILYMAIL.CO.UK, THESUN.CO.UK, NIGHTBIRDE.CO, FOX8.COM, PEOPLE.COM, HELLOMAGAZINE.COM, INSTAGRAM.COM, TMZ.COM