ENCINITAS — Merrick Hanna said goodbye to “America’s Got Talent” last week, and hello to seventh grade.
But not before he got a chance to fly.
The 12-year-old Encinitas boy, who had captured audiences with his creative robotic dance style coupled with his prepubescent exuberance, was eliminated in the penultimate stage of the NBC variety show.
“I was so happy that I got all positive feedback,” Merrick said about the judge’s critique of his final performance. “It’s an amazing feeling because I didn’t think I would make it past the judge’s cuts and to make it all the way to the semifinals was amazing.
“I’m a little sad about getting eliminated, I will miss some friends I made on the show.”
More about them later.
In his final performance, set to Jon Bellion’s “iRobot,” Merrick, with the help of carefully hidden wiring, soared above the stage.
He flew, if only for a few moments, he said.
“Flying was so amazing,” he said. “It was an experience I won’t forget.”
Merrick’s parents, Shawn and Aletha Hanna, said they knew the odds were stacked against their son in the semifinals, where he was competing against five contestants who were widely considered favorites to advance to the finals.
“We all knew if he didn’t get into the Dunkin’ Save (three contestants who receive a final chance to be ‘saved’ by live voters) he was going home, and he was prepared for that eventuality,” Aletha Hanna said.
When asked if there was something he would change in his final performance, Merrick said he would have asked for more time to prepare.
Aletha and Shawn said they were proud of Merrick’s performance, which he choreographed and arranged in less than two weeks, something he wasn’t used to until that point.
“The last two pieces were brand new, and he had to make it up in a very short period of time,” Shawn Hanna said. “It was complicated doing that, and creating something that would resonate with viewers and judges.”
But Aletha Hanna said the experience of creating that final piece was something that few kids get a chance to do at Merrick’s age.
“He got to train with Gregg Curtis, who was brought in to design the aerial sets for Alegria (a Cirque de Soleil production),” Aletha said. “He had several flying lessons. I mean, what an incredible experience.”
The incredible experiences didn’t stop with his flying lessons, the family said. Merrick forged strong bonds with his contestant friends, including two in particular — ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer and singer Evie Clair.
The trio spent a lot of time together, including three hours of school together on the set every day and an outing at Dave & Buster’s.
“They got to know each other pretty well and they were really close,” Aletha Hanna said.
With both of his friends and other talented acts advancing to this week’s finals, Merrick said he didn’t have a favorite to win the competition.
“Everybody is just so amazing,” he said.
Now, Merrick returns back to normalcy, as he heads to his first days in middle school. He said he is glad to be back in school, as he didn’t get a chance to meet his teachers and classmates.
“I’m very excited, I think it’s going to be easy to go back to school,” Merrick said. “I still have my friends from elementary school and I’ve talked to some of my teachers so I think it will be easy.”
Shawn Hanna concurred that he thinks Merrick’s transition from reality TV star to middle school pupil will be seamless.
“I think we are lucky that as much as he likes to be on stage, he doesn’t go out of his way to seek the attention,” Shawn Hanna said. “Once the initial excitement calms down he’ll be in a good place. He is good at separating being on stage from being a normal kid.”
What part of middle school is Merrick most excited about?
“I’m most excited about electives,” Merrick said. “We didn’t have them in elementary school, so I am excited to try them out.”
Merrick said that he’s planning on taking a break from reality television, after turns on “Lip Sync Battle: Shorties” and “So You Think You Can Dance” over the past year.
He wants to get back into stage acting, and of course, he will continue to dance.
“I’m not going to join a crew or a dance team, it’s too much of a time commitment, but I will be doing my own thing and having fun,” Merrick said. “I’m not going to stop dancing, though.”