Lavender Darcangelo has never been nervous to perform. But when she stepped on the "America’s Got Talent" audition stage in July, she was coming off a period of burnout and feared her singing voice wasn’t in shape for the judges.

She needn’t have worried.

After belting out a rendition of Irene Cara’s "Out Here On My Own," the 28-year-old received a standing ovation and a coveted “golden buzzer” from judge Heidi Klum. She would automatically move on to the next live show stage.

From there, Darcangelo, a resident of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, earned a spot in the "America's Got Talent" finale on Sept. 26.

Lavender and her adoptive fathers, Wil and Jamie Darcangelo, joined Boston Public Radio to talk about "America's Got Talent," her disabilities, how music plays into her greater dreams, and how their family came together.

Watch the full discussion:

Wil met Lavender while teaching an after-school music program at Fitchburg High School. He immediately recognized her singing talent, and the two became close. They would talk about what Lavender was going through at home.

“I felt like he understood me in ways that other people did not know how to understand me,” Lavender said.

When her family situation became challenging, she reached out to Wil.

“I had like a bag of clothes and a few other things and a trash bag. And I said, ‘Wil, can you come get me?’” she recalled.

Lavender lived with Wil and Jamie, but adoption wasn’t initially part of their plan. The couple thought they’d help Lavender find adult foster care.

“We didn't think we were adequate, really, to care for her,” said Wil. “Caring for somebody with a disability is a special skill.”

“Not everybody is built for that,” Lavender chimed in. But she is the one who asked Wil and Jamie about adoption — an experience Jamie described as similar to a marriage proposal.

“How do you say 'no' to that when this wonderful person thinks you can handle this?” Wil said.

The pair often sings together. (They picked "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to sing at the adoption.) Wil also performs in some songs on Lavender’s upcoming album “Mosaic” — an apt name for what they say will be a multi-genre album to represent the diversity within the autism community and humankind at large.

Lavender's lived experiences also inform her work outside of singing.

"A lot of people, when they first talk to me, they think that I'm just blind," she explained. "You can't tell that I have autism. You can't tell that I struggle with reading and comprehension."

She said that growing up, she had access to services for blind people — including a braille teacher and an aide at school to help her fill out worksheets — but that she didn't get enough support with reading and comprehension.

“My dreams go far beyond music,” she said. “My real dream is to create a self-directed school, kind of like a Montessori school where kids choose their own path.”

Instead of punishing kids' behaviors, Lavender said this school would recognize behavior as a form of communication. She offered the example of a kid who throws something across the room. Instead of taking away that child's recess, they would have the kid pick up the item and work to figure out what the kid was trying to express.

Lavender hopes her music and "America's Got Talent" can provide exposure and open doors to help her create this self-directed school.

With the show's finale just three weeks away, Lavender said she’s excited. They're still figuring out what her final performance will be.

Corrected: September 08, 2023
This story was updated to correct the first name of Jamie Darcangelo. We apologize for the error.