After last week's controversial wildcard selections -- Heidi picked Duo Resonance, while Mel B picked Tone the Chiefrocca -- the big question going in this week is who the other judges will pick. Setting aside the fact that the booty guy is still here, this round will determine the best of the best.
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We then have our first wildcard pick:
Howie Advances Red Panda to the Semifinals
This is a fair pick; Red Panda couldn't participate in the last round due to a family emergency, but now she gets her chance.
Tone the Chiefrocca
Honestly, I don't really mind this: there's no arguing that this is the best act, but Tone is the most charismatic presence on the show. Howard gives him the X, but he is still fun to have around, and he definitely earns points for launching into a country version of his hit at Heidi's suggestion and then yelling through Nick Cannon's voting spiel. Sure he's making a mockery of the show, but when the judges are hyping up how great he is and American and high-stakes everything, a little blissfully idiotic levity is welcome.
Howie's wildcard choice performs her signature bowl-kicking unicycle trick once again tonight, this time with extra bowls on an elevated platform. It's never not impressive, but it's kind of the same thing over and over again, and she misses one of the bowls this time. The judges are overwhelmingly positive -- weirdly so, in my opinion -- but I kind of doubt that she's earned passage to the finals here. She's sweet, but I think we've seen everything with her.
Hmm. I guess I should be up-front that I'm not really in the niche market for this type of material, and that humor is subjective and everything, but I'm not all that impressed here. I'm not sure if she sees herself more as an impressionist or a comedian, but she's not the best of either category on this season of the show -- Jim Meskimen probably threw his remote through the TV when Howie called her the best impressionist working today.
This pair was Heidi's wildcard pick, and they justify their presence once again with another artful, athletic and romantic gymnastics routine. It's tough to imagine mainstream America turning out strongly for these guys, but they're pretty fantastic. While it's fun to see Tone charismatically sullying the last semblance of this show's credibility, Duo Resonance elevates AGT in spite of itself.
This kid still looks like he's having the time of his life, so that's nice. His trick is a somewhat disorganized affair, as neither the judges nor the audience are particularly compliant with his gleeful stage directions. The good news is that he's continued to deliver high concept tricks that defy explanation, but the setup and execution is pretty meandering and awkward this time around.
This teenage dance and acrobatic troop gives the rival acrobatic troop the Chicago Boyz a run for their money tonight, as they stack, flip and toss their members all over the place between synchronized dance segments, accompanied by this season's millionth appropriation of the song "Too Close to Love You." The judges are largely measured in their praise, but the audience gives them a standing ovation.America's Got Talent: Ranking the Top 24 Semifinalists >>>
Genius song choice here, as Dave Fenley performs a soulful, solo acoustic version of the Spice Girls song "Say You'll Be There," complete with beat-boxing segments. Howard Stern takes against it hard, responding in humorless, fist-pounding anger -- it's pretty bizarre, and it's totally understandable when Fenley appears to take it personally. I think Stern's "America's judge" schtick might be going to his head, because it seems like he can't handle anyone showing the other judges any attention. Regardless, it's a really fun performance.
Having faced his own one-judge hate brigade, Taylor uses much of his set to address Heidi Klum directly, feigning an attempt at the "family-friendly" set she had previously pined for. This is his best performance yet, garnering huge laughs from the crowd and the judges alike. I've been a big supporter of this guy for his personality and his potential, and I think he's finally hitting his stride.
Jonathan dials things back a bit tonight, singing a tender rendition of the Les Miserables song "Bring Him Home." The strategy is clearly an attempt to do something to differentiate himself from Forte, but I worry that he might have just lobbed them an easy home run, skewing timid rather than tender.
Coming off an emotionally resonant high point last week, Catapult's seemingly undersea-themed routine feels a bit slight by comparison. The story isn't all that clear this time, and while the troop should be free to pursue something a little more abstract, they need to connect a little better to stay in.
Cami does another tender cover this week, this time taking on Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love." It's a lovely arrangement, but her voice falters a bit on the more demanding bits. I think she's operating at about 75% of her potential here, which makes Howard's ecstatic praise for her "tenderness" look a bit hypocritical after his ham-fisted Dave Fenley dis.
Right from the opening note, these guys kick the bar for singers and musicians up another few notches. They tackle an operatic arrangement of "Unchained Melody," delivering pristine harmonies and swelling musicality. These guys win the night, hands down.
That does it for the first round of the semi-finals. Still no word on who the last wildcard will be, but lots of strong acts to consider. Tune in to NBC on Wednesday night at 9pm for the results.