Last night’s America’s Got Talent Top 12 performance episode was intense as hell. It was two hours of ferocious competition where just about every act outdid themselves. By the end of the evening, AcroArmy, Emily West and Mat Franco were far and away the clear frontrunners in my book. I’ll just get that out of the way here and now. Any of them could take it next week … and by “it” I mean the whole million dollars. But we have another three episodes and one hair-raising final round of performances to vote over, so who knows what will happen a week from now?

For this article, I’ve done something a little differently than I had for previous predictions articles. Instead of reading Bill’s in-progress live blog and recap of last night’s Top 12, which is what I usually do, I checked in with Bill, but then left the party after the first two performances. This week, I didn’t want any outside influences to, well, influence, my predictions. As such, I relied on last week’s rankings once the Top 12 had been determined … but before last night’s onslaught of talent.

Now, since Bill created that ranking, we watched those 12 acts perform again last night, so Bill’s opinions have probably changed since then as have mine. Here’s how Bill ranked those acts after the results:

However, just like every other performance night, no one can predict whose nerves will get the better of them or who will take a false dance move. Lots of jumbling can happen with that list in the minds of the pundits who like to predict. That brings us to my predictions. 

America’s Got Talent Recap: The Top 12 Perform >>>

Honesty is a Better Policy When It Comes to Performance

At this stage of the game, it’s feeling to me like the judges are treading way too lightly on the performers’ egos. It’s all accolades and only the occasional brutally honest feedback. Granted, all the acts at this point are, well, stinkin’ fantastic. But let’s face it, if there was ever a time a performer needed to hear the brutal truth, it’s when there’s a million dollar booty on the line. 

My Appreciation for Howard Stern 

I appreciate when any of the judges risks being hated by the crowd in deference to the betterment of an artist’s right to be challenged to be everything they can be. The acts who take to heart what Howard and Heidi and Mel B. and Howie say have become better performers for it. We’ve seen this with our own eyes and heard it with our own ears throughout this process on America’s Got Talent.

I love Howard for his constructive criticism of Miguel Dakota a couple weeks back and for his candid response to the puppy pile that spread poo all over Christian Stoinev’s God-given talent. I love Mel B. for telling The Willis Clan that they are the best when they harmonize, and last night I loved Heidi Klum for her straightforward reactions to Emil and Dariel and Miguel because I was feeling the same way about their acts and they all needed to hear why. 

Someone once told me that you’re never as bad as your worst critics say you are, and your never as good as your grandest supporters say you are. At a certain point, those extreme evaluations become extreme because they’ve become personal somehow for the evaluator. The evaluator becomes invested in their evaluation to a degree. The proof of a high quality judge is in their ability to always — always — give the performer something to strive for, something to improve upon. True artists aren’t in it just for the accolades. Accolades are wonderful. They get us up in the morning and buoy us through our days sometimes, but the artistic human soul yearns to improve, to go beyond what they thought they could, to achieve their highest purpose. To stay the same, to be unchallenged is anathema, it’s hell. Onward.

My First Two Picks: Emily West and AcroArmy

AcroArmy: The words that came out of my mouth last night during and after AcroArmy’s performance are not appropriate on this kind of website. Approbational profanity virtually spewed from my lips. Where have they been hiding that level of talent? Seriously, folks. They brought their act up not one, but two or three notches last night. In retrospect, I wonder if they planned an entire strategy of pulling out just enough stops to get themselves to the next level (or get themselves wild-carded back), knowing full well they needed their biggest guns for this week and next. Bill, I’m back to the threat of moving to the North Pole if these guys don’t get voted in. If America can’t see that this talent is head and shoulders above so many others, I don’t want to live in the same country with y’all. 

Emily West: She made love to that microphone last night. She made love to America. And she gave love to herself for all she was worth. This was a perfect performance and a perfect song choice to highlight her extraordinary gift. I have nothing more to say.

Mat Franco Is In a Category All By Himself

Mat Franco: I didn’t really get the deal with the Ace of Spades in his mouth which dragged a bit, but otherwise the man brought it. Something’s been bugging me since last week, however. Heidi said that Mat’s personality was larger than life. I disagree. Liberace’s personality was larger than life. Houdini was larger than life. Bill Clinton. Lady Gaga. Madonna. Perez Hilton. These people have personalities that are larger than life. That’s not Mat Franco. Mat is not sparkly and loud and imposing. He is sweet, humble, direct, likable. His magic, in its humility, is larger than life in an unassuming and generous way, if that makes sense. He’s masterful, as Howard said. If it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master, Mat Franco has spent twice that. This man loves his craft. And it shows. So, no, he’s not larger than life. He doesn’t need to be. Because he’s a master.

Any of these three could take home the dough next week. This week, however, all they have to do is make it to next week. They will do that. #Truth

Sons of Serendip and Christian Stoinev Deserve to Advance

Sons of Serendip: They have set our expectations high and they always deliver. However, this week I disagree with Howard’s rave about the lead singer belting out in the song. It didn’t seem to be as enormous of a performance as a couple of their earlier ones. My favorite is and will always be their rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” from boot camp. But by anyone else’s standards, Sons of Serendip still earns a top six slot for the finals.

Christian Stoinev: He was very good. Perhaps his best performance yet. He told us it was hard to come up with something new, but he did it. I held my breath. He is a performer, a solid performer. He’s also the classic example of the inability we all share of being unable to please all people all the time. Howard was not wrong in his constructive criticism last week about the dogs. He wasn’t. Heidi didn’t do Christian any favors by saying she wants 50/50 Scooby and hand balancing. If Christian goes forward and heeds Heidi’s comments, he is doomed. 

These two acts, for me, are neck and neck. Christian stepped it up, while SOS stayed the same in quality, but that quality is pretty excellent to begin with. Every time I decide to rank one above the other, I change my mind. We’ll see tonight how you voted. (You did vote, didn’t you?)

The Sixth to Advance Could Be…

…tougher to choose. The next two acts to look at are Mara Justine and Quintavious Johnson. 

Mara Justine: She killed it last night. Without a doubt. I heard serious echoes from my speakers just like other viewers commented they did — and Howie Mandel commented upon. But baby girl killed it. If those echoes were supposed to be part of the performance, someone should be slapped — hard — for talking her into agreeing to it. If it was a bad sound system there at Radio City Music Hall … well, someone’s ass should be in a sling. (Too harsh?) Otherwise, however, the song, her pitch, her passion, her transitions … it was all amazing. Goosebumpy and a bit teary-eyed. That was me by the end of her performance.

Quintavious Johnson: He’s on par with Mara Justine. People don’t agree with me; they want to put him head and shoulders above Mara, and I’m okay with that. What’s amazing about both of these kids is that they are kids. However, Mara outdid herself this week (barring the crappy echo business), but Quintavious didn’t take it up a notch and that is going to be his undoing. He’s good. Was he better than six others?

I’m Going with Dakota

Miguel Dakota. Wow. The pimp spot. Whoops. “Gimme Shelter” was way too much song for Miguel. Heidi expressed my sentiments perfectly. Either there wasn’t enough practice time or Miguel was trying to give Howard way too much of his voice, but it came out harsh and almost painful. If he makes it through to the finals … he needs to get back to the guitar and vocals alone. And put the hat back on because that wicked widow’s peak of his is part of the sexy package. Will America have been willing to give him another chance? I think so. But will they give it to him over six of his competitors? The judges sure made it sound like they think we all should have. I guess we’ll find out tonight.

You can watch America’s Got Talent every Tuesday and Wednesday night at 9pm on NBC.

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(Image courtesy of NBC)

Catherine Cabanela

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV