Within just a few years he went from performing as an opening act for major artists to getting dropped by his label and having to return home to live with his parents. The experience gave him some serious insecurity issues to battle, but now it seems as though he's finally breaking through.
"It's that 17-year-old kid inside who I have to keep telling, 'It's going to be OK,'" Manuel shared in a pre-taped package before his live performance at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on Tuesday. "I just cannot let this slip through my fingers again."
The 28-year-old performer brought his A-game to the live show with an amazing rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls -- famously sung by Jennifer Hudson in the big screen adaptation -- and he blew the roof off the theater.
Simon Cowell, who had previously criticized Manuel during the Judge Cuts round, admitted that this performance made him totally reevaluate the singer's talents.
"I mean this as an absolute compliment, you are a diva. This is what you do so well," Cowell praised. "You've been OK up until now, but this was your moment."
The often-acerbic judge went on to compliment Manuel's stage presence and voice, sharing, "If I was producing a Broadway show right now, and I was looking for that big male diva vocal lead, it would be you, Johnny."
Howie Mandel also had nothing but love for the talented vocalist. "I feel as if tonight's show just started," Mandel explained. "You made me forget everything that came before you. This, so far, is the highlight… I think you just hit it out of the park."
Mel B summed up Manuel's entire performance simply with the word "perfection," while Heidi Klum gave credit to her ex-husband, Seal, for his decision to move the singer forward into the live rounds.
"I don't love it when Seal is right," Klum quipped, "but boy do I have to say he was right when he pushed that Golden Buzzer for you."