The America's Got Talent
audition train rolls on Tuesday, and thanks to brief layovers in Napville and Coffee Junction, I am alert and ready to ride. But first, we all must pay the Howard Stern Troll Toll. The fare? Your soul. Mwahahaha. Or two hours of your time, at least.
Unless you're DVRing. Then it's like $1.35. Or if you're just reading, because, I dunno, you love Tim Duncan or have a life or something, then you're free, and I'll take the dive for you. But Lord knows I'll see you on the other side.
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Enough with the pleasantries, let's get to the acts! Here's the good, the bad and the Howard Stern (also known as the "not Heidi Klum"). Nick Cannon and his banana-colored suit roll up in a banana-colored Caddy to welcome us to Los Angeles before the judges arrive in fancy cars and on a Vespa (Howie Mandel), and we're off to the races.
Things start off hot and relatively light right off the bat, as fire jugglers Rob Williams and Casey Martin, aka the KamiKaze Fireflies, take the stage. True story: Kamikaze was once the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, making it the only final word in contest history I actually know how to spell. The real-life couple specialize in renaissance fairs, and they call Nick out on stage so Rob can shimmy up his body and stand on his shoulders while Casey balances on top of a shopping cart. Then they light their torches and start tossing. They're funny throughout, and they celebrate their advancement with a running chest bump.
Hannah and Savannah are wearing matching black-and-white leotards in whiteface and claim to be a two-person contemporary jazz act with a twist, in that they match the background prop. But then the music starts and the entire two dozen or so members of the Hart Dance Team emerge from the structure like clowns out of a car. They're talented and unique, but because they blend in with their surroundings, I feel like I couldn't tell what was going on. The choreography is on point, but isn't the point of camouflage to avoid being seen? To me, it was just bare feet and hands moving around willy nilly.
The Extreme Dance Company's routine is full of energy and cheerleader-style aerial tosses and backflips, and the shirtless The Team, complete with painted-on bandit masks and one casted and booted dancer, steal the hearts of the women in the audience.
Jodi Miller is a 42-year-old single and childless comedienne whose men-are-cats, women-are-dogs jokes land with ease, and she's instantly Heidi's favorite comedian ever because the bits don't require a lot of thought or a perfect knowledge of the English language.
Bob Markworth, 77, and Myana have a dangerous archery routine, and Bobby has married three of his 20 or so former assistants. Myana has been his sidekick for eight years, but they've never dated. He's hoping an AGT win will change that. He's like the elderly Katniss Everdeen, popping a balloon in Myana's mouth before shooting her clothes off with a crossbow. With his final shot, he hits a tiny ball she holds on a stick in her mouth. And she's in great shape for a kinda hot older lady.
An unnamed black singer rocks it with a rendition of "Freedom."
Unemployed disorder-ridden 20-year-old Anna Clendening was bedridden with depression and anxiety a few months back before finding music. Howie relates to her, and then she wows the judges with her emotional rendition of "Hallelujah." She's an unknown, but videos of her songs are plastered all over the Internet. I'm not doubting her illness, but I don't know about this whole "just found music" thing. Still, the judges thank her for sharing her story and for making them feel something while Anna breaks down in tears to a standing ovation.
It's animal act time! Stasia Popovich, who previously performed with her dad on the show, shows off amazingly-trained rescue house cats.
John Vincent works on the NASA Orion Project during the day and trains pigs at night, and Mudslinger is up to the tasks of raising a flag up a pole, working on his short game and maneuvering a cone course with a soccer ball before putting it in the net in honor of the World Cup. It's impressive, but it's a pig, so all the tricks are really slow. Still, the judges love it, and Heidi plants a smooch on the delicious and adorable slab of bacon.
After Howie comically wears a boy band wig for a bit and Nick welcomes the judges (i.e. Mel B's protruding cans and Heidi Klum's fishnets) back for another day, we are continually jumping days and locations. The Atlanta Professional Dance Academy takes the stage and wows with a performance of the Asian-infused Jasmine Flower. Nothing like fan dancers performing the Flying V in perfect unison. Pacey shoots and scores!
Aaron J. Field is a spectacular singer who dressed as a baby to stand out, and he blows the audience away with his rendition of "Midnight Train to Georgia." He ends up crying like a baby after the judges put him through.
Sons of Serendip give me chills with their harp, keyboard and cello performance of "Somewhere Only We Know." Absolutely beautiful. And they all met at Howard Stern's alma mater, Boston University, so they've got that going for them as well.
Andrey Moraru is a hand balancer from the Ukraine, and while he monitors the turmoil going on in his home country, he feels he is where he's supposed to be. His moves are precise and angular, and the judges marvel at his strength and agility. Howie thinks he can win it all.
After a magician who does a bad shell game trick goes through, Patrick tosses flaming spears through a box holding his assistant. But it's all buildup for Smoothini, the ghetto Houdini, who gets best-of-the-night praise from Howard with his simple yet astounding tricks involving a deck of cards and a salt shaker. Dude makes cards, foam balls, salt and liquid jump hands and appear from nowhere. The Marine from Washington Heights specializes in small, up close magic (he can't afford expensive props), which doesn't always translate to the big stage. But if anyone can make up for it, it's this guy.
The night is capped off by Justin Rhodes, who started playing piano when he was 3 and moved to New York City to pursue music against his parents' wishes. He got into drinking and drugs, which plunged him into a dark place he's struggled to emerge from. This is the first time his father is seeing him perform since he was a kid, and he sings Avicii's "Wake Me Up" to prove his worth to his dad. It's emotional redemption for sure, but really, he's just good, not great. But his father cries and probably feels like a tool for doubting his son, so take that, dad!
A dude/chick professional twerker named Stylish Talent comes out on stage to cap off a dancer montage by booty shaking across the stage. It's terrible, but the judges love it enough to twerk as a group. Nick nails it, and even Howard climbs up in front of the audience for a demonstration. They don't vote, but I'm assuming it's a no. If it was a yes, he/she won't make the live shows.
Dog Stars, Inc.'s pooches don't do the tricks and instead chase a stuffed toy and each other around the stage. And this is after the guy claims to be better than season 7 winner Olate Dogs.
Eddie and Zach are flight attendants and boy band/pop group/dancers Diverse, and their matching blue jackets are the best things about them. I'm sad they're from Jersey, because that's my home state and they are definitely not representing. The judges all hit their buzzers, which have been unplugged so that Mel B. can charge her iPhone.
The Bigger T likes to sing and dance, but he moonlights as a postal worker. It's best if the shell-covered crotch and coconut shell-covered ta-tas stay in your imagination. The reality is much, much harsher.
John and Amy are Pressing the Limits, and she drops a bowling ball on his stomach before stomping nails onto his chest while he screams, "Stop! Stop!"
The Heidi Klum
Anna Clendening definitely stole the show from the audience's perspective, with her emotional performance, while hand balancer Andrey received high praise as a potential winner. But for me, Sons of Serendip had the most goose bump-inducing performance, backstory aside. Then there's Smoothini, whose challenge will be making small tricks look big on a massive stage. But the potential is there.
Just like last week, the showcased acts were mostly good, which is appreciated in an era that tends to harp on the trainwrecks. Outside of one montage of the rejected, there were just a couple buzzed ones tossed in.
Which ones were your favorite, and who do you think has the best chance to emerge from this show with a shot to win it all? Who impressed you the most, and which advancing acts do you see falling flat? The auditions continue next week, and we're still seven weeks away from the live shows, so I hope you brought a pillow as we keep riding the crazy train toward Radio City Music Hall. The arrival date is July 29.
America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)