ENCINITAS — Sagan Hanna was in tears thinking that his brother, Merrick Hanna, was at the end of his reality-TV turn on “America’s Got Talent.”
Merrick, 12, had just finished his second storytelling dance performance on the show, a 90-second routine involving a park bench and the song “Something Wild” from the movie “Pete’s Dragon,” and received positive reviews from the judges.
But when Merrick found himself standing side by side with child dancing duo Artyon and Paige during the elimination segment of the show that aired Aug. 8, Merrick’s family was convinced that the Encinitas boy’s run on the show would be over.
Sagan, however, was especially inconsolable, Merrick’s parents Shawn and Aletha Hanna said.
“We assumed that only one would go through, so I can only say that the angst we felt on that day was immense,” Shawn Hanna said.
“So did Merrick and Sagan,” Aletha Hanna said. “They were convinced Merrick would go home, to be honest. Sagan was very sad … we tried to tell him that it was OK, and that everything was going to be fine and that Merrick did a great job and we were proud of him, but he was having nothing of it.”
Sagan’s tears quickly turned into tears of happiness after Heidi Klum delivered the news that both acts would be advancing to the shows live rounds, which begin next week.
“It was a very tough decision for us, there were only six spots left for the live shows, and I’m sorry to tell both of you guys that you have to keep on rehearsing, and you have to keep on perfecting your act,” Klum said, ominously. “Because both of you will be going on to the live show!”
And just like that, the Hanna family burst into tears of happiness.
“It is such an amazing feeling knowing I am a top group, it really is an incredible feeling,” Merrick said in a phone interview with his parents on Aug. 9. “It’s like, ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow, super excited.”
The irony of this scene is that it actually occurred months ago, as the NBC show taped the judges rounds earlier this year.
So while the rest of America was tense watching Klum render Merrick’s verdict, the family had to keep the secret under wraps.
“Merrick and the family had to pretend we didn’t know,” Shawn Hanna said, with a laugh.
“The hardest part is that there were some opportunities for Merrick to do some things in August, and he couldn’t just say, ‘Sorry, I’m booked.’”
The Hannas, however, did watch the show to see how his performance would be presented. Both parents were not present when the judges gave him his feedback, and Merrick was so excited at the time that most of it went in one ear and out the other, the parents said.
Now, Merrick moves on with 35 other acts to the live shows, where he will once again perform for a chance to stay in the competition.
Aletha and Shawn Hanna, however, said he has already accomplished so much and they are genuinely shocked with his performance to date.
“When Merrick performed, I thought he did a really good job, so I felt he would be able to leave the show with his head held high and that would be the end of his time on ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Aletha Hanna said.
Both parents are again trying to temper expectations moving forward.
“I just want him to do a good job so he can leave with his head held high,” Shawn Hanna said.
“I told him, look at this less like a contest and more like an amazing opportunity, enjoy every moment being back stage, seeing the other side of television, which is an unusual and unexpected experience, and talking with other contestants,” Aletha Hanna said. “ … this was especially fun because the show has involved the whole family. We got to spend time as a family exploring the back lot at Universal Studios, which was really fun. It was the best family vacation we’ve taken in a while.”
Both parents said one of the highlights of the “America’s Got Talent” journey has been the friendships with fellow competitors.
“I think the best part you just get to meet just an interesting and diverse group of talented people,” Shawn Hanna said. “We really didn’t think he would make it this far, and we don’t have lot of emotional attachment in going further. We just want him to have a good experience, perform well and when he … know that he did a good job, and move on to what’s next.”
For Merrick’s part, he worked all summer on his routine for the live shows. He solicited input from his followers on the social media platform Instagram to determine his song choice, and has been working through his creative process, which includes writing the lyrics on his bedroom mirror and freestyling until he creates a routine that tells the story of the music.
If he advances further in the competition, Merrick and family will have another bridge to cross: the start of school.
Merrick, entering middle school, said he’s not looking forward to the possibility of missing the start of school.
“Missing the first few weeks of school wouldn’t be cool because that is when you meet your teachers, you meet other students, you take tours of the school and I really don’t want to miss that,” Merrick said.
But he’s prepared to if it comes to it, he said.
“He understands it’s a great opportunity,” Aletha Hanna said.
“We’re just hoping the San Dieguito Union High School District will be friendly to us,” Shawn Hanna said, with a laugh.
Merrick is also hoping that Encinitas residents will tune into the live shows, especially to his performance, as he will need their votes to stay alive in the competition.
“Please vote for me,” he said.