SALT LAKE CITY — Darci Lynne Farmer walked away from her “America’s Got Talent” audition in tears.

A then-12-year-old ventriloquist, the Oklahoma girl wasn't sure what the judges and large audience would think of her comedy-singing act featuring a diva rabbit puppet named Petunia. Ventriloquism hadn’t been featured on the show in two years, and the two ventriloquists who won the show in seasons past — including entertainer Terry Fator — had much more experience under their belts.

“(I thought), ‘Will they think I’m just cute? Will they think I’m not good?'" Darci told the Deseret News. “It was really hard putting myself out there in that situation.”

But it only took the first word of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” for Darci … er, Petunia … to impress everyone in sight. And when Darci began to sing her own line and the floppy-eared Petunia pressed her paw against the ventriloquist’s mouth so she could keep on singing, the judges knew this was no ordinary act.

After Petunia finished belting out the “Porgy and Bess” classic, Darci began to cry, overwhelmed by the audience’s standing ovation and fervent applause.

“You make my heart melt. … I’m trying to describe how amazing it was,” judge Mel B told the young ventriloquist before hitting the golden buzzer, which immediately advanced Darci to the competition’s quarterfinal round.

Darci went on to win last year’s season of “America’s Got Talent,” becoming the third female, third child and third ventriloquist to win. Her audition video with Petunia now has more than 53 million views on YouTube. Recently, the ventriloquist returned to TV for a holiday special called “Darci Lynne: My Hometown Christmas,” featuring several guest artists including Lindsey Stirling and fellow Oklahoman Kristin Chenoweth. And next month, Darci will appear on a new show — an “AGT” spinoff called “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” — which airs Jan. 7.

Darci Lynne brings her quirky puppets, including the soulful mouse Oscar, to the Eccles Theater on Saturday, Dec. 22.
Darci Lynne brings her quirky puppets, including the soulful mouse Oscar, to the Eccles Theater on Saturday, Dec. 22. | Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

But before that show, fans in Utah get a chance to see Petunia up close when Darci, now 14, brings the famous rabbit — and three other puppets — to her Christmas show at the Eccles Theater on Saturday, Dec. 22. But the ventriloquist warns people that Petunia has changed since her “America’s Got Talent” days.

“When I went on ‘AGT,’ she was this timid, really shy rabbit and really adorable,” Darci said. “And when we won, I changed her personality and now she’s a full-on diva and knows what she wants and knows how to get it.”

Fourteen-year-old ventriloquist Darci Lynne will perform at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 22.
Fourteen-year-old ventriloquist Darci Lynne will perform at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 22. | Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Aside from Petunia, the trio of puppets visiting Salt Lake City include the stuttering, soulful mouse Oscar, the naughty old lady Edna Doorknocker and the cowgirl Katie — who didn’t make an appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”

During Darci’s run on the show, Oscar wowed people with his rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You?’ and Edna wooed — and embarrassed — judge Simon Cowell with Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It was both Oscar and Petunia who helped out Darci during her final, winning appearance — an act Darci said she was especially nervous about since she had only learned it the day before the performance.

That final performance featured Oscar and Petunia bickering over who should sing the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” before ultimately deciding to perform the song together. Darci’s part, as Oscar bluntly told her, was to “just stand there with your mouth closed like you always do.”

“I’ve always thought of it as, my puppets can get away with murder but I can’t,” Darci joked. “It’s funny, they say things that I would never say to someone but … can get away with it so it’s pretty fun.”

Darci began learning ventriloquism when she was 10 as a way to help overcome her shyness. And while the art form didn’t exactly come easy to her right away, now she considers it “second nature.”

“I (can) speak through my puppets,” she said. “My personalities are kind of a piece of theirs so I can express myself through them in a way.”

And while “it’s hard picking (her) favorite child,” Darci said the puppet she has the most fun with is Petunia. It’s also Petunia who gets the most stage time in the upcoming Salt Lake show, but Darci said she tries to feature all of her puppets equally. And most importantly, all of her puppets work together to do one thing: put ventriloquism in the spotlight.

“It’s such a unique thing, so my whole goal was to bring it back and show people it’s OK to be shy, “Darci said. “ … I wanted to bring that back to show all the kids out there about ventriloquism so maybe they’d pick it up and have fun with it. That was my whole goal.”

If you go …

What: Darci Lynne and Friends Live

When: Saturday, Dec. 22, 7 p.m.

Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St.

How much: $29.75-$49.75