How a hip-hop dance crew from Mumbai made it to America’s Got Talent
From a nail-biting audition to bagging the coveted Golden Buzzer, comes a story of beating all odds
What does it mean to dream? Not simply to fantasise, but to aspire beyond one’s perceived abilities, current capabilities, means and limitations? The mid-19th century American transcendentalist poet, philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true”. A century and a half later, V.Unbeatable, a Mumbai-based group of 30 dancers between the ages of 12 and 27, is busy breathing life into those very words.
It started in 2014, when Om Prakash, now 27, and his friend Vikas wanted to pursue their passion and turn it into a profession. But an unfortunate accident left Vikas paralysed, and he soon succumbed to his injuries. Devastated, the group found itself staring at an uncertain future without one of its leaders. “The group fell apart; everyone had fear in their minds,” says Prakash.
For the next three months, still grieving, V.Unbeatable nearly ceased to exist. But soon, Vikas’s parents approached Prakash and told him that they regretted that their son hadn’t lived to see his dream, and that Vikas was the only one who could help change that. “They said that if we formed the group again, they would support us and help in any way they could. So, I formed a new crew and expressed my views on re-establishing a newer, larger group. It was then that I decided to change the name from Unbeatable to V.Unbeatable, a combination of Vikas and unbeatable. We wanted to join his name to ours forever, because everything we stand for was thanks to his vision.”
For the past four years, the troupe has been performing locally, mostly taking part in small competitions. But it was when V.Unbeatable auditioned for season four of India best-known dance competition, Dance Plus, that life kicked into high gear. The group not only nailed a successful audition, but also made it through to the top four.
It was then that things really began to take shape: V.Unbeatable soon received an email from the team at America’s Got Talent, inarguably the world’s biggest talent hunt. “At first we thought it was a scam; that we received it [the email] because our performance video went viral. So, we ignored it. A week later, we got another email. I mentioned it to my friend Rohit, who convinced me to write back—I knew of the show because we used to watch it on YouTube, but I never thought that they would actually contact us! Luckily, I listened to my friend and wrote back.”
What followed was a whirlwind of preparation, with a one-month deadline for V.Unbeatable to make it to season 14 of America’s Got Talent. Most members didn’t even have valid identification papers, let alone a passport. Only Prakash did. “None of my kids even had enough money to make passports. I took a loan and paid for all of them,” he says. “We couldn’t even concentrate on our rehearsals because we were so preoccupied and excited about the whole thing.”
When they got to the US, the group was in awe of the sheer size of the America’s Got Talent stage. “I never thought I’d have the chance to stand up there,” says Prakash. “My only wish was to perform on a big reality show and fulfil what Vikas had set out to do, but this platform turned out to be more than anything I could have ever hoped for.”
View this post on Instagram
When the moment finally arrived, the bright-eyed youngsters filed onto stage in their red and yellow uniforms (with ‘Vikas’ emblazoned on the back), touching the ground in respect. After a brief introduction, they launched into a dazzling, death-defying dance performance set to ‘Malhari’ from the film Bajirao Mastani (2015), drawing gasps, screams and waves of applause from the audience. The judges couldn’t believe what they were witnessing either: Gabrielle Union beamed, Julianne Hough said she she felt like she just watched “history in the making”, and Howie Mandel added, “I think you just made your future”. Simon Cowell, too, was all praise.
Fast forward to the Judge Cuts episode of the show, and guest judge Dwyane Wade hit the Golden Buzzer, sending V.Unbeatable straight to the live shows in Hollywood, amid a shower of confetti and roars of encouragement from the audience. “All of us went crazy, we couldn’t believe it,” says Prakash.
As of this week, the group is back in the US preparing for the next round of America’s Got Talent. “Now, our rehearsals last eight or nine hours, because we have to match the level of our past performances on the show,” he says.
“When we started, none of our parents gave us their permission or their blessing, but now they are proud of us. There was a time when my folks wouldn’t even let me hold practice. Now, they wake me up every morning and tell me to go rehearse.”
“Every kid has a dream. Mine is to take V.Unbeatable to even greater heights and make sure that everyone is well settled. We don’t come from privileged backgrounds; our lives are hard. Some of us don’t even speak English. We have all had to struggle to make ends meet—Veer-Govinda used to work as a bus conductor, Dabloo used to sell flutes, Suraj would leave home at 5am to distribute newspapers and use whatever he earned to pay for his school and college. We have come a long way, and the fact that we now have our parents’ support makes me so happy.”
Watch V.Unbeatable compete on the biggest stage for talent in the world, America’s Got Talent – Season 14, exclusively on COLORS INFINITY