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Bills' Isaiah McKenzie to appear on 'America's Got Talent': 'I want to be myself wherever I am'


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It is no secret that Isaiah McKenzie likes to talk. He is constantly heard by his Bills teammates. He is heard by coaches, fans, the media. And on Tuesday, the world will hear him sing.

The Bills wide receiver is part of the NFL Players Choir, which auditioned for "America’s Got Talent" in April. Their episode will air on Tuesday on NBC at 8 p.m. EST.

Bryan Scott, Michael Gaines and Dwayne Wright, who all spent time with the Bills, are part of the group that selected “Lean On Me” for the performance.

“It was a great song. It went well for the type of sport we play,” McKenzie said. “It went well with what we do in life or we do in our careers – current and former players just helping one another out.”

The Players Choir started in 2008, with the annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration being a staple performance. For some events, more than 60 current and former players sing. Tuesday’s audition is a smaller group. McKenzie joined a few months ago.

He’s been singing in the car and shower for years, but he had never been part of a choir. But through the NFLPA, the Players Choir reached out.

“(They) told me I was handpicked, and (I) didn't know how, I didn't know what to think,” McKenzie said. “I'm not really handpicked for a lot of things – me, ‘cause I’m small, and everything like that. Who would have thought I’d be handpicked to sing in a choir? It was pretty cool.”

A man of many talents, McKenzie is a restaurant owner, an avid dancer and a self-proclaimed “race car.” He is not lacking for confidence, previously declaring himself “the most interesting man in the world” and “the face of the franchise.” However, he is still bracing himself for how his Bills teammates will rate his latest undertaking.

“I feel like they're a tough crowd,” said McKenzie, who sang in front of Simon Cowell. “I say I got bubble guts because of them more than (because of) seeing myself on TV.

“Because I know how they're gonna get at me when they see it. It’s gonna be jokingly, but they’re gonna get at me. And I just got to sit there and laugh it off or whatever, but I'm cool with it.”

At the end of the day, McKenzie knows it’s all love. He’s solidified his brand as the team’s nettlesome little brother, with the emphasis fully on brother. He knows if and when to dial back on any antics, and the team isn’t the same without his shenanigans. His comfortability in Buffalo allows him to take centerstage elsewhere.

“Whether it's football or non-football related, I want to be myself wherever I am,” he said. “That's the most important thing to me.”

McKenzie believes it’s critical to nurture interests outside of football. That value aligns with the choir. Scott, who played linebacker for 10 years in the NFL, sees the group as an outlet for individual members, as well as a positive and uplifting community within the league.

“I think just letting people see there is, one, a softer side of things, but two, it's never too late to kind of chase your dreams and your goals and pursue something that you're passionate about,” Scott said. “That really is at its core.”

McKenzie is already feeling that tight-kind atmosphere. He and Scott compared the choir to the locker room, where they’re able to be particularly comfortable around each other. They have retreats from time to time, since they can’t frequently rehearse together in person. One of the few active players in the choir, McKenzie finds it a great way to connect with and learn from former players.

Most of the group will be able to watch Tuesday’s episode together in Dallas, as they gear up for a performance there. McKenzie, who has mandatory minicamp this week, was still figuring out his plans on how he’ll watch.

Even if he’s physically apart from the group, McKenzie will be checking in. The choir quickly embraced him, and it didn’t take long for McKenzie to be himself. Scott estimates less than 24 hours.

Each time a new member joins the choir, Scott says they try to hold a round-table get-to-know-you talk. Sometimes a player will mention previous hesitations about embracing singing.

“They were like, ‘Man, I felt uncomfortable’ – maybe singing around people or maybe trying to pursue something in the arts,” Scott said. “But we're here to say ‘It's okay. It's totally fine. Hold on to that. It is an outlet, and it is a release, and it is a way to express yourself.’ So don't let anyone take that away from you. Which is good to see.”

Still, there’s some carryover from the sport that brought them all together.

“Just like football, we huddle up before we run out there and we get each other hype,” Scott said. “Just like running out of the tunnel for kickoff.”

Scott has been involved with the choir since his playing days. He and Gaines overlapped for a year in Buffalo, and the chance to continue to be a part of a group is meaningful.

“It really is some of the glue that keeps guys connected,” Scott said.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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