There are but 12 performances left in the quarterfinal round of America’s Got Talent Season 12, and I gotta be honest, I’m not feeling it.
It could be the glut of singers, the absence/shafting of magicians or simply the feeling that I’m a passenger on a guided journey, but the 2017 campaign seems more contrived than those in recent memory. I understand wanting to shape the field as producers and judges see fit, but at some point it’s overtly transparent.
The talent differential between the contenders and the pretenders has never been more evident, with the spotlight on roughly four per show surrounded by throwaways (some of whom will sneak through). And it’s all coming at the expense of novelty.
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The first group of quarterfinalists was solid, but America voted wrong (or my Bello Nock conspiracy theory is on point). The second batch was mostly pathetic, and thankfully, viewers avoided “the Mirror Image catastrophe” I feared would come to fruition. I expect these acts to be somewhere in the middle, but either way, it’s hard to get amped up over such a so-so crop.
It’s possible this sentiment stems from a “poor performance hangover,” and a strong night could get me back on track. For now, though, I feel like a sad fortune teller.
Lineup and Projections
Half the field consists of singers, while the other half is two-thirds terrible (#Math).
Acts I am excited for: Chase Goehring, Colin Cloud, Diavolo, Kechi Okwuchi
Acts I am not excited for: Everyone else
The young Ed Sheeran/Jason Mraz hybrid and the plane crash survivor are the best bets to excel among the vocalists, while the real-life Sherlock Holmes has consistently wowed and the “architecture in motion” acrobats are the only dance troupe with a sense of originality not named Light Balance.
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The best of the rest is anyone’s guess. I argued five of the acts — gospel choir DaNell Daymon and Greater Works, subway singer Mike Yung, large-and-in-charge dancer Oscar Hernandez, dog and pony show Sara and Hero, and salsa on steroids siblings Junior and Emily — shouldn’t have made it through Judge Cuts, and two others actually didn’t.
Wildcard Final Draft was an off-key disappointment before they were eliminated, and projection mappers Oskar and Gaspar are essentially getting another golden buzzer after skipping that round entirely. Their presence is all the more irking because it means we won’t get to see Tom London or Henry Richardson, two popular choices for resurrection.
That leaves Angelina Green, the excitable 13-year-old with the single and nearly homeless mother who snagged Heidi’s golden buzzer. The potential is there, but her audition showed she didn’t quite know how to harness her gift yet. Here’s what I wrote in that recap:
“There are pitchy moments, and while it’s spectacular when she opens up her range, she visibly struggles to reign it in during the restrained moments. It’s not that she lacks the control, but it appears the music is literally trying to explode from her body, and it’s taking every ounce of her energy not to spontaneously combust.”
So who knows, maybe we’ll see something fun and unexpected after all.
DaNell Daymon and Greater Works draws the leadoff spot, as if the deck wasn’t stacked enough against choirs. They’ll be the benchmark, though, and it’s entirely possible six acts slot in behind them.
There’s like 100 people on stage who apparently share in a teenage love for Jesus, because it’s Grease‘s “You’re the One that I Want.” But despite those numbers, they only feature two soloists, the latter of whom struggles to keep up with the music and key once she takes over. It’s rousing and rollicking, for sure. But it’s also a fairly standard quality gospel choir.
All four judges offer a standing ovation, and Mel B. musters an elongated “Oh myyyyyy Godddddddddd.” Heidi was grabbed by the volume of their voices, and she praises the unconventional song choice. Howie feels born again, and Simon believes it was not a performance, but a sensational spectacle.
Junior and Emily Spin for the Win
We’re well-versed in their troubled past by now, having heard it all the way back in Season 3 and again through this journey. They lived in a rough neighborhood, Junior got arrested, and they were saved by being able to twirl quickly to Pitbull music. And the rest is history.
They add a variety of spins to the routine, including ones above his head and on her knees, and I swear I wrote the above paragraph before Pitbull started blaring from the speakers. They mix it up and put together a more complete routine, but at the end of the day, is it something people actually enjoy watching?
Mel touts the pair and the night so far like they’re the most wondrous things that have ever been on television, and she is speechless. Heidi found it fun and believes they stepped up, and Simon calls it their most dynamic performance thus far. Howie concurs with everyone, and it’s all aboard the hype train.
Final Draft Gets a Revision
These guys wowed in their audition but whiffed on Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” and now they’re back with a wildcard. Because, you know, not enough singers. Still, they relish the opportunity to perform on the big stage before tens of millions, and they plan on making the most of it.
Their redemption song is a completely rearranged version of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” slowed to a crawl and full of harmonies to the point where it took a minute to figure out what they were even singing. It’s subtle and controlled, and it crescendos with a fantastic falsetto. It’s brilliant, if unspectacular, but mission accomplished.
Simon is proud of them, but the first half didn’t work before they picked it up. Heidi preaches the need to memorable, and this was just good, while Howie didn’t love this rendition and found it boring. Mel, meanwhile, compares them to Boyz II Men. That’s a bit much, but at least it’s positive.
Oscar Hernandez Emerges from the Shadows
His pops pushed him towards sports based on his size, but all he ever wanted to do was twerk. He spent years behind the scenes, choreographing routines for others, because he didn’t fit the part. But now he’s here to show that he belongs.
He starts off gyrating in a giant descending cage, and they he joins his backup dancers for a fierce and precise performance (at least until he starts getting winded) of “Milk and Money.” I haven’t been his biggest fan, and while this was certainly fun, it’s more of a spectacle than something I want to see over and over again.
Heidi likens him to a human disco ball and applauds his effort, while Mel calls him out for forgetting his choreography. Simon begs America to “break the mold” by putting Oscar through to the semifinals, and Howie dubs him “the epitome of not judging a book by its cover.”
Angelina Green Sticks with Family
Her dad left when she was nine, so now, life is all about her mom and brother. He’s her number one fan, living the dream by association. Music is her passion, and she hopes she can someday use it to repay everything that’s been given to her despite all the hardships.
It’s a rendition of Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity,” and it’s a little rough. My wife, who has a musical background, points out that this is a terribly difficult song to sing, and Angelina definitely has pitchy moments. The highlights are when she shows off her fantastic range, but the rest is sleepy at best, bad at worst.
Heidi tempers the criticism by blaming nerves, and she believes the ability is there even if this performance wasn’t perfect. Simon praises her voice, and he bought into this being her song. Mel predicts she will speak to the masses, and there’s no time for Howie.
Colin Cloud Extends the Night
Colin claims his tricks are a result of well-studied deduction, and you have to appreciate how much work he’s put into developing his character. I, for one, am anxious to get the night started.
I could attempt to explain the illusions that follow, but it’s far too convoluted to recount in concise fashion. So watch the video, and know it includes random audience members, a Justin Bieber CD collection, a girl who gets bitten on the butt by a dog while camping, and murdering Simon Cowell with a cleverly placed rubber knife. I have no idea how he does what he does, but this one was all over the place.
Heidi points out it was long and a lot to take in, but she was impressed. It was too drawn out and confusing for Howie, while Mel had a tough time following along with the story. Simon, still collecting himself, pleads with Colin to work on his showmanship and timing.
All Aboard the Uptown D Train
Mike Yung, our resident subway singer, is up next. And he actually is my resident subway singer, because I am a tenant in the Big Apple. I might have seen him before, or maybe not, because he’s always reminded me of every other talented singer performing on the subway.
He’s veering away from old crooner classics by tackling Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and it’s simply not my cup of tea. There are bright spots — and the overruns are actually the best part — as it’s not anywhere remotely close to his wheelhouse. He might get by on likability, though, especially considering everything else we’ve sat through.
Heidi dubs it Mike’s best performance, while Simon applauds the song choice and the fact that AGT has no age limit. Howie calls him the best of the night, and Mel sees improvement but wants Mike to “feel” the lyrics more.
Oskar and Gaspar Manipulate Reality
The guys who turned Heidi into a cat (among other things) are back, and the imaginary masterminds are once again directing the actual ones on how to wow America.
This time, a super-hot chick and a ripped up dude stand on stage and move around a tiny bit while projections cover their bodies and a remake of Rihanna‘s “Diamonds” plays. It’s cool but does little to keep my interest, because it needs more action. Or any action, really.
Howie begs for votes based on originality and wow factor, while Simon found it brilliant and appreciates the anonymity of the imaginary Oskar and Gaspar. Heidi thought it was pretty, but the pace was too slow.
Sara Spreads the Love
It turns out Sara doesn’t just own Hero, but she lives in her van with two other pooches with whom she also performs. Her connection with Hero has been a big part of her appeal, and I’m not sure how we feel about having to share that bond with another pup named Loki. I guess we’ll see.
The good thing is that she attempts to tell a story, dropping from the ceiling into some sort of Egyptian pyramid dressed like Lara Croft. Then Hero does some tricks before Loki joins the party, flips around and jumps rope. It is sad to me that this is possibly the best of the night.
Howie points out that people love animal acts, the pooches made Mel smile, it all came together for Heidi, and Simon believes Hero and Loki are better than some of the human dancers.
Chase Goehring Turns it Around
This dude has been awesome with his original songs, and my expectations are definitely high. Plus if I have to rank Sara and Hero at No. 1, I might have to quit writing.
This one is called “Illusions,” about his first heartbreak, when you love someone who doesn’t love you. It’s reminiscent of his other performances, catchy and fun, but my one complaint is sloppy diction. He needs to enunciate every syllable, especially at that speed, and this isn’t as crisp. Still, it’s far and away better than anybody else.
Mel praises his creativity and lyrics, while Heidi preferred his previous iterations. Simon calls him a little superstar, and Howie is sure the girl he sang about is full of regrets.
Diavolo Keeps it Going
The time crunch is real, and we’re blasting straightaway into the braintrust behind “architecture in motion.” This one is inspired by the universe, about reaching greatness in the vastness of space and time.
There’s a giant clock the dancers climb, which then starts spinning as they dangle and flip in spectacular fashion. It’s not quite as high-flying as they’ve been, but the originality and precision show a level of mastery seldom seen. With only the pimp spot remaining, it would appear three acts are stealing the show.
Heidi is super excited about the spectacle, Simon fell in love with them all over again, Howie begs America to vote for “when carpentry meets choreography,” and Mel has never seen anything like it.
Kechi Okwuchi Closes the Show
Her backstory is beyond the normal tragedy, as she survived a commercial plane crash as a teenager and bears the scars of that horrific experience. Her gut-wrenching history has been exceeded by her immense talent, and she serves as an inspiration to everyone who hears her.
It’s a goosebump-inducing rendition of Katy Perry’s “By the Grace of God,” and while it’s not perfect, it’s clear we’ve moved to the serious portion of the show. I don’t know if she has what it takes to win, but it’s not about that right now. She’s in tears at the end, and it’s tough to stay composed while watching it.
The judges have nothing but kind words (though Mel and I will agree to disagree re: her “pitch perfect” claim), praising her strength, beauty and uplifting nature. Simon believes this was Kechi being who she’s always wanted to be, with the song choice, lyric and stage presence, and she caps it off by offering hope to her adopted hometown of Houston is this time of devastation.
It’s Finally Over!
Wow. My expectations were low, and somehow I was still disappointed by this plethora of mediocrity. Diavolo is the clear winner, flanked by Kechi and Chase, who were solid even if they weren’t at their best.
My votes go to Sara and Hero, Final Draft, Colin Cloud and Mike Yung after that, but honestly, you can rank 4 through 12 however the hell you like, and I won’t argue. It’ll be an absolute crapshoot predicting who will advance, but it hardly matters.
Colin still has the potential if he can clean up his storytelling, but whoever else reaches the semifinals is destined for the bottom portion of those rankings. Time will tell, but I’m not expecting the unexpected, at least not until the pre-selected acts reach the finals.
Who were your favorites, and who let you down? Which seven acts do you predict we’ll be seeing again, and who do you think has the potential to win the whole thing? Remember when I said a solid night of talent could get me back on track? I guess the hangover rages on…
America’s Got Talent season 12 airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC. Want more news? Like our America’s Got Talent Facebook page.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)