We've managed to make it through two weeks of the America's Got Talent
quartefinals without too much controversy, as voters (and to a lesser degree, the judges) have mostly gotten things right.
"As it should be" got back on track last week, with the deserving Mat Franco, Andrey Moraru and Aerial Animation joining the semifinalists. I would have preferred the Hart Dance Team to Mara Justine, and Acte II, Mara Justine or a blade of grass to Jaycob Curlee, but the American sluts-to-emotion spoke (louder than Jaycob sings, I might add), and so the judges were left with a coin flip.
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As we prepare for the third group of 12 to hit the Radio City Music Hall stage, Flight Crew Jump Rope remains the only true travesty we've witnessed so far (wildcard round, please?). Acte II had the chops but choked, so we can't really get on the judges for that one. But, hey, at least I'll get to voice my displeasure at tiny kid Salsa dancers one more time. And Juan Carlos is gone.
Set to perform tonight are occasionally-annoying child pianist Adrian Romoff, just-met shadow dancers Blue Journey, magician Mike Super and creepy sidekick Desmond, musical group Sons of Serendip, acrobatic dancers AcroArmy, military vet singer Paul Ieti, comedian Wendy Liebman, musical group Kieran and Finian Makepeace, dance trio Dragon House: The Agents, acrobat dog balancer Christian Stoinev, YouTube audition winner Cornell Bhangra and anxiety-disordered singer Anna Clendening.
Certainly, some favorites are in the mix, but only five will move on. Who are you most excited to see? Anyone you think shouldn't even be here?
It's time to see who is off the chain and who is decidedly on the chain. Don't forget, the blog is live, so keep the comments coming. This show is oh-so-boring to watch all by
my your lonesome.
The Live Blog Begins
Sir Nicholas of Cannon is rocking a velvety purple sport coat and some white kicks, and he appears to have shaved his head into a bit of a mohawk. Howie Mandel has donned a fedora, Mel B. apparently got her nails done, Heidi Klum is gorgeous and foreign and Howard Stern is wearing a tux vest without the jacket.
Howie kicks things off with a little tribute to Hollywood and comedy legend Robin Williams, who tragically took his own life yesterday. If you're down in the dumps, please talk to someone. Otherwise, you might not get your chance to be the next Robin Williams. Or any of the members of Dragon House: The Agents, who are kicking things off.
The Agents Bring CGI to Real Life
These three dancers don't have 9-to-5 jobs, as dancing is their lives. It's The Matrix come alive, and they've been impressive albeit seemingly repetitive in the past.
They're all wearing shiny white suits this time around, and it starts off too slow for my liking. The backup dancers are distracting, because it's like, if you guys are so good, why do they even need to be there? Does a pianist have a backup pianist? They stand really close together, blurring their movements, and there isn't a wow moment in sight. It's a swing and a miss.
Mel B. thinks it's a great way to start the night, and she can see herself at their show right now. Howie compliments their precision and says they should be the spokespeople for Glad. Ooooookay. Howard loves the act but believes all their moves are too similar from performance to performance, and Heidi agrees that it's repetitive. Meh.
The guys promise that they have surprises in their bag of tricks, and that they did "more than enough" to move on. Double meh. Especially going first.
Anna Clendening Gets Props Just for Showing Up
This nervous 21-year-old has been shadowed by the anxiety disorder she was diagnosed with seven years ago. Several months back, she was a recluse, not eating, drinking or socializing. She struggled to get out on stage during Judgment Week, bursting into tears and running away before finally composing herself. But now she's determined.
I'm not taking anything away from her or her issues, but I definitely get the impression she's milking this thing. Especially considering, as I've noted in the past, how many videos of her singing are plastered all over the Internet.
Her rendition of Christina Perri's "Only Human" starts off a bit rough in the lower register, but it soars once she opens up and belts it out. It's good, not great. It's not American Idol worthy, but it's pleasing to hear. Just doesn't blow me away.
Howie thinks it's the singer's job to move us, and her emotional backstory, especially in light of Robin Williams, really hits home for him. Heidi feels the passion in her voice and gives her props, and she hopes the journey will continue. Howard compliments her for changing her look, but he felt more passion in her previous performances. He doesn't want to get caught up in her story, and it was nice but lacked edge. Mel B., however, loved everything about it and offers a hearty "well done."
YouTube Champs Hit the Stage
Cornell Bhangra, a group of Punjabi-dancing book nerds, bested thousands of acts to win a spot in the quarterfinals on the Today show. They promise to show us moves we've never seen before.
It strikes me as a traditional performance to start, until some guy jumps up on stage from the audience and joins the group. At first, I thought he was a live-show stage crasher, but then he busts out some crazy less-than-traditional moves. The tempo and beat of this genre, by nature, brings the energy and fun, and there's a great infusion of hip-hop.
Heidi loved it, praising them for their energy. Howard is shocked no one fell off the stage at the end, and he thinks the group had a distinct advantage not being seen before. Still, he enjoyed it and hopes they have more to offer if they advance. Mel B. was bopping in her seat and declares it off the chain. Howie calls it exciting and unexpected, and he likes the updated version of classic Punjabi dance.
The Makepeaces Sing For Dad
Kieran and Finian Makepeace started learning music while traveling across the country with their family, and their biggest-supporter dad is now battling cancer. They're brought to tears as they express their desire to make the final years of his life the best they can possibly be. They're sticking with it for him, and we're the benefactors.
When they start, I can't understand a word they're saying, and I don't even know what song it is. Then they start harmonizing, and it's clear that it's an original and mildly haunting take on Ellie Goulding's "Lights." I love that they made it their own, and it ends big with some ramped-up energy after a lackluster start.
Heidi thinks they took all the fun out of a vibrant pop song and made it anemic (which I'm okay with because the techno dance vibe isn't my thing), with a sleepy beginning. Mel B. loves that they made it their own, starting small and ending on a crescendo that was uniquely in their style. She adds that they are lovely to look at.
To back Mel, Howie calls them adorable before talking about the rough transition coming out of Cornell Bhangra. Too low energy for him. Howard is a fan and says there is a lot going on with them, but this performance lacked something that's tough to put a finger on. But he commends them for taking risks and adapting songs to their style.
Desmond Tortures Mel B. ... And the Audience
Mike Super is a normal dad from Pittsburgh, carting his kids around to gymnastics practice. But by night, he's a mystifier with the help of his spirit energy sidekick Desmond. At least his little girl recognizes that his friend is imaginary. Desmond has to show up for the act to work, so at least he has an excuse if things go bad.
He pulls the trigger on a taser, charging the air with a hundred million billion volts of electricity that will allow Mike to introduce Desmond to Mel B. on a very personal level. He sits the judge down in a chair and puts "Desmond inside of her." She admits she doesn't really believe in Desmond, so Mike unveils a "Scary Spice" voodoo doll. He then taps the doll's shoulder, and Mel feels it.
He has Mel extend her arms and make fists, and he lights the doll's hands on fire. Mel feels the heat and then opens her palms to reveal some ash marks. He then tases the doll, and Mel screams out several expletives due to the shocks. She runs from the stage, whining about not getting paid enough. I'm willing to get paid much less and let someone actually tase me. Tase me, bro!
Howard hates Desmond and doesn't think Mike needs him for the act, believing it takes up too much time. But he likes the tricks. Howie thinks it's truly amazing, Heidi is impressed by the ashes on the hands and Mel abstains.
I'm not doubting the fun part of the act, but it's way too slow and goes on too long. Howie thinks America will vote for him in droves, yet I'm not so sure. I don't know the science behind it, but it's not all that entertaining when you compare buildup to payoff. And I also think Desmond is stupid. Now I'm sure I'll get tased in my sleep.
Kid Genius or Annoying Prodigy? Or Both?
Adrian Romoff is 9, he's been playing the piano for five years and he's likely hated by the older eighth-grade classmates who he makes feel stupid on a daily basis. No matter, he'll leave them all behind when he jumps to his sophomore year in September. He's either adorable and endearing, or condescending and annoying. At least he recognizes that he wouldn't be here without his mother.
Once thing is for sure, though, he can certainly play the piano. Now I'm no musical expert, but it sounds like he hits a number of wrong keys early on in the performance. There is no doubting his talent, but a few of the notes make me cringe. Then he gets back on point and is flawless the rest of the way, leaving me unsure of what to make of it as a whole.
He climbs down the ladder he needed to get to the piano, and Howie calls him a phenom with passion, dubbing him "Boytoven." Howard declares him remarkable, wondering if he'll be the the next Ben Franklin or waste it all and buy a strip club. He's a fantastic entertainer with flair. Heidi loves what he does and loves watching him, while Mel questions if he realizes how entertaining he is. Adrian admits he does and the crowd goes wild, but I don't think he's trying to be a comedian. I think he's just that full of himself. But that's for America to determine.
Can AcroArmy Stop the Show?
AcroArmy is a group of 17 acrobats from all over the country, ranging in age from 12 to 27. The choreographer was a performer on the first season of AGT, and he's un-retiring after six years to fill in for a dancer who had to bow out due to work conflicts.
They kick things off with a girl in red (everyone else is in blue) jumping off a high pedestal. Then there's tosses and hand balancing and flips, everything we've come to know and love from a group of this nature. It's mistake-free, but they don't have that one move that really takes your breath away. It's all good and fun, but I always want that show-stopping moment.
Howard loves, loves, loves the act and calls them true performers, saying he hopes America realizes what they just saw. Yeah, we got it. Heidi says it's exactly what she wants to see with tons of different layers, Mel calls it ah-mazing and demands America vote for them, and Howie deems this the kind of act families gather around their televisions to watch as a whole. Do families even watch TV together anymore?
Wendy Liebman Probably Makes Someone Laugh Somewhere
Wendy started doing stand-up after college, but she took time off to raise her step-sons after meeting her husband. After shots of all the laundry she has to do, it's time for her to pursue her dreams again. She just loves to make people laugh, and after all, someone has to keep the Rockettes' clothes clean. I have not been a fan of the material I've seen so far, so I'm interested to see how she does in front of a big crowd.
Her first two jokes, about Febreze and wearing an entire magazine of perfume, fall flat, and it doesn't get a whole heck of a lot better. She steals money from Starbucks tip jars, wears a three-piece bikini and lies about her age. Repeatedly. She's worthy of a chuckle or three, but this is probably the end of the line for her.
Yet somehow, all four judges give her a standing ovation. Heidi loves her stream of consciousness and really laughed, while Mel praises that we finally have a lovely good-looking woman who entertains us throughout. Howard calls her a rock star who owned the stage, and Howie truly believes every swing she took was a home run. Well then. Do you agree with me? Or the judges?
We've got four acts left, and here's hoping all four of them turn in performances worthy of advancement. Otherwise, we're going to have a muddled selection process.
A Teacher, a Student, a Laywer and a Grocery Store Worker
The spectacular Sons of Serendip have known each other since college but only came together recently, and they're equal parts different and utterly likable. How you could not root for these guys, I have no idea. I mean, there's a harp for goodness sake.
Their rendition of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" is absolutely haunting and wrought with goosebump-inducing moments. I love, love, LOVE these guys. It's emotional and gripping. Best of the night by far, in my humble opinion. And it's not close.
Mel thinks everything about it was beautiful and dubs it the best so far, Howie is soothed and feels good, and Howard thinks America has tough decisions to make after these guys knocked it out of the park. Heidi calls it a great example of covering a well-known song and improving it.
A Quick Transition to Blue Journey
We must be short on time (thanks, Mike Super) because we're jumping right into dance duo Blue Journey. Nick and Rachel came together right before their audition, but the beauty of it all is that they can learn the act in different cities since it is based on interacting with the background as much as it is with each other. I've been wondering how good they'd be with more time to prepare and craft their tale.
Only this time, there really isn't a thought-out story. It's still visually stunning, but the first part is almost totally void of the projection gimmick save for a sky and some clouds. That changes in the second half, and they get blown around by a shadow man's breath and climb on some hands. Much of the act is performed on the floor with an overhead camera, which makes me wonder how impressive it is to the studio audience. I enjoyed it, but I think they can still do better.
Heidi calls it a sophisticated and inventive performance, but she thinks it translated more to home viewers instead of including the folks in the seats. Mel says they bring something special to the show, and she wants them to win. Howie doesn't know how to describe the journey Blue Journey just took us on, and Howard agrees with his fellow judges that this is intelligent and offers a new take on this type of performance art.
Christian Stoinev Brings Back His Pooch
This guy wowed in his audition with his one-finger-in-a-champagne-bottle balancing, and then he showed he's more than just a shirtless wonder when he incorporated his dog Scooby into his Judgment Week act. I preferred the first, but he's going with the latter for the quarterfinals. Still has to be considered a fan favorite.
He starts off with some standard and impressive hand balancing to pop music before busting out the pooch for a tired-and-true dog trick that we've seen a million times. But then things get nutty, with Christian having Scooby blindly stand on the bottom of his feet for a handstand while Mel covers her eyes.
Then Scooby walks down to Christian's back for some one-handed horizontal spinning. The best part and scene-stealing moment, however, is when Scooby double-waves to the crowd during the spins. I don't think there's a single person watching who didn't go "awww" at that moment, and I'm going to make my girlfriend watch it after I'm done writing. Then Scooby hops off his back and walks on two legs to his carrier.
The judges all go nuts, with Howard dubbing this his favorite act of the night and Howie calling it the best night in AGT history. I love how gracious and humble Christian is, too, calling this the surreal moment that has kept him up daydreaming at night. It was a slow buildup, but a quality payoff.
A Military Salute to Greatness
Army crooner Paul Ieti gets the pimp spot after really stepping up his game during Judgment Week. After his audition, I said that his backstory was better than his voice, but I had to eat those words with his second performance. He was spot-on from start to finish in one of the season's best thus far. So now let's see what he's got live from Radio City.
One Direction's "You and I" in an interesting choice, and it pays off. His voice is smooth and the notes are mostly on point (there's one or two that prompt a bit of a cringe), and there's a goosebump here and there. I hate to admit it, but One Direction really has some good songs.
Heidi felt the emotion and says job well done, while Mel thinks this was a perfect way to end the night. Howie believes Paul just gave America a very tough decision to make, dropping the standard "I'm glad I don't have to decide" line. Howard says Paul is one of his favorites, but on such a crazy night of competition, it might have been too safe. If America's tendency of loving singers with emotional backstories is any indication, though, he's definitely safe.
Onward to the Results!
I was begging earlier that the final four acts would all be clear-cut winners of the night, and I think they delivered. Only five acts can move on, and I would argue that AcroArmy, Paul Ieti,
Blue Journey, Christian Stoinev and Sons of Serendip are the clear favorites to advance.
None of the other seven really wowed me, despite what the judges thought, though I could see Adrian Romoff making a run with the help of voters who find him cute and not annoying. Wendy Liebman will likely garner more votes than I think she deserves as well.
Who were your favorites? And who do you think is moving on to the semifinals? Is anyone who doesn't make it worthy of a wildcard?
We'll find out who stays and who goes during another live blog Wednesday night, which includes performances from comedian Taylor Williamson and season 8 winner Kenichi Ebina. AGT's favorite Japanese import found many ways to wow in several of the season's top-ranked performances. I can't wait to find out what he can do after an entire year of planning. See you then, and as always, thanks for following along and for all the comments!
You can watch America's Got Talent every Tuesday and Wednesday night at 9pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)