Another painstaking journey to whittle down thousands of competitors into literally the last man standing is about to be complete, as the coronation of the America’s Got Talent season 10 champion is just around the corner.

After a grueling four months and nearly 30 episodes, a single performance is all that stands between one of our Top 10 acts and $1 million (payable in a financial annuity over 40 years, or the contestant may choose to receive the present cash value of such an annuity) and a headline show in Las Vegas (at least for a couple of nights).

The only thing we can be 100% certain of is that a guy will come out on top.

Meet the Top 10 of America’s Got Talent Season 10 >>>

Lineup and Projections

Despite what has been said about a relatively subpar season of talent, I think we’re looking at a pretty stacked lineup with only a few stragglers at the bottom. Sure, there are frontrunners, but the majority of those who have outlasted the rest have earned their spot in the finals. 

Benton Blount and Gary Vider (he of 0.5 funny jokes) are the clear outliers, as neither was deserving of making it this far. And as such, neither will win. #BoobissippiRex.

Likewise, even though The CraigLewis Band has been by far the best singing act, the fact that vocalists have consistently been in danger is a sign that voters aren’t fans of such acts on AGT, at least not anymore. These two were atop my Semifinal Group 1 rankings, yet they were up for the Dunkin’ Save, lost that to Benton and split the judges’ decision for the last spot in the finals. That’s a lot to overcome, even with a stellar performance.

The Maybes

The middling group is full of potential to surprise, but it’s difficult to place them in the top tier due to red flags or a reliance on things other than supreme talent. (I mean, at this point, everyone is good.)

Stuttering comedian Drew Lynch is lovable and has all the inspiring backstory you could ask for, but audiences seem split on his material, slow delivery and tendency to giggle at his own jokes.

Uzeyer Novruzov is a true wildcard, as his death-defying act proved to be just that in the semifinals. How he got through after falling off the ladder remains a mystery to me, but that also speaks volumes about America’s impression of the rest of the bunch. Still, we have no idea what he’s going to attempt this time around.

Magicians Derek Hughes and Oz Pearlman are very similar, with Oz getting a slight edge after Derek went small and sleepy last time. But I’m still recovering from the wool being pulled from in front of my eyes during the quarterfinals, and both will need something spectacular to have a chance.

A Three-Man Race

Nipping on the heels of the top two is Piff the Magic Dragon, who is one of the surprise stories of season 10. He’s the type of guy you don’t expect much from the first time you see him, in part due to his gimmicky costume. But then he delivers an entertaining mix of magic, witty banter and Mr. Piffles. He recovered nicely from going too big in his Radio City Music Hall debut, but he’ll still have to step up his game.

That leaves us with the pair who I believe is responsible for the top two performances of the season thus far. 

Stevie Starr, aka The Professional Regurgitator, transitioned from gross to genius after initially coming across as one of those ridiculous throwaway acts. But his padlock-ring trick was Top 5 material at worst. 

Then there’s ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, who may just be the one to beat thanks to his combination of skill, experience and ingenuity in finding entertaining ways to throw his voice that doesn’t involve sticking his hand inside a dummy. His Howie puppet was possibly the best act we’ve seen and had me openly laughing in a room all by myself. 

Who do you expect to stand out and who are you rooting for to have a true “moment”? Here’s to hoping each one saved his best for last. Now on to a kick-ass show! 

Keep the comments coming, and let’s find out who’s a Starr and who’s a Vider. I’d like for that to catch on, just so Gary has a shot at true fame.

The Live Blog Begins Now

Nick Cannon welcomes us to Radio City with Flo Rida singing “I Don’t Like It, I Love It,” on top of the marquee, and then it’s time for the Rockettes. After all, it is their house. 

Nick has borrowed Colonel Sanders’ suit for the occasion, to go along with his sparkly shoes, but of course he rocks it like a straight Liberace. He introduces the judges, but all I see is that napkin Heidi is passing as a shirt. And it’s every bit as shiny and Nick’s shoes. Gotta love supermodels.

One of this season’s many format changes includes a revamped finals, with 10 acts each performing one time. Last season, there was a Top 6, with each act offering one new routine as well as a reprisal of their best from earlier. It was tricky for the magicians and especially the comedians, so it was a good idea to scrap it in favor of a less redundant, more streamlined approach.

Oz Pearlman Validates His Career Choices

It was a calculated risk to leave a Wall Street career in pursuit of magical dreams, but it seems like it might end up paying off for Oz. Despite a bright future, he and I are both working to put his slip-up in the past. And going first doesn’t bode well for his chances. 

Oz kicks the show off by making all the judges swear that they’re not in on the trick, and to prove it, he has them think of a loved one or pet to swear against. Howard picks his late bulldog, Heidi goes with Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mel B. can’t pick between her kids so she chooses her husband, and Howie picks Mel B.’s daughter Angel. He then has the judges sit in four chairs on stage in a random order. 

He has five envelopes, and he has the judges each pick one. They open the envelopes to reveal four X’s, then he opens his own to unveil a picture of his face. Then the covers come off their chairs to show that the chair colors match the colors of their respective papers. Finally, he turns around the picture of his face, where every single one of the judges’ choices is listed.

Unfortunately, I can’t buy into it. I see opportunities at every stage of this trick where he could write things on envelopes and pass them out in a fashion that matches the chair colors. But the judges lose their damn minds about how they can’t describe their amazement. Sorry, Oz. Not for me anymore. 

America’s Got Talent Season 10: Semifinals Part 2 Performance Rankings >>>

Uzeyer Novruzov Climbs for Glory

This circus performer’s path to the finals has been full of literal ups and downs, and he was sure it was the end of the line as he tearfully rode in the ambulance to the hospital. But he was redeemed, and now he wants to prove to America that they made the right call. 

He spins a hat, then hops on a little ladder and uses it to climb some stairs. Then after balancing on a little platform at the top, a rope ladder drops from the ceiling. While helicopter noises play, he uses his hands to climb up and down that ladder. Unspectacular.

Howie points out that Uzeyer is injured and couldn’t give us his best, but he’s the embodiment of “the show must go on.” Howard applauds his effort, but this isn’t Uzeyer’s best and he’s not going to win. Heidi thanks him for his dedication, and while Mel B. appreciates his spirit, it wasn’t edge-of-her-seat material. 

Benton Blount Focuses on Family

Apparently, AGT is saving the best for last too because next up is the teddy bear-expecting daddy-country crooner who is just looking for a better life for his family. At least at the end of this, he’ll have that wife who calls him the man of her dreams.

It’s a Benton version of One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” and it’s a decent choice in that it forges an emotional connection regardless of who is performing it. I’ll admit I get a few goosebumps, but that’s just because it’s a great song. Benton, who sounds like a poor man’s Aaron Lewis (Staind), will get votes. But it’s mostly either pitchy or flat, and I’m not a fan of the lasers and rotating selfie stick circle. But he nails the biggest note.

Howard says Benton looks and sounds like a star, and despite the fact that the first verse was flat, he came on strong and has shown a ton of personal growth. Heidi tells him he has a heart of gold and wishes him luck. Mel B. calls it perfect and declares herself a fan, and Howie praises his genuine likability. 

Gary Vider Tries to Make Me Laugh

He’s still trying to escape his career as a dog walker and his roommate, who is now riding his coattails into the cool clubs. When did Greg become his official sidekick? He’s not a late-night talk show host.

Gary makes jokes about North Korean hackers getting him out of debt, Ryan Gosling and some other stuff that’s not worth repeating. There’s absolutely no thread through the set, which jumps around like crazy, and I’m still not a fan of his slow, explain-it-to-me-like-I’m-5-years-old delivery. I’m not sure why anyone in the audience is laughing because I don’t even chuckle. 

In a dramatic concession, though, I will give him that his “I’m in a long-distance relationship; I have to stay 1,000 feet away” is another 0.5 funny, but I’d be shocked if he’s the first one to use it.

“Gush” is the best word to describe Howie’s response, while Heidi just congratulates him for making it this far. Mel B. praises him for being consistent, though she thinks that means consistently funny. Howard compares him to Woody Allen. I’m glad I haven’t eaten dinner yet.  

The World’s Second-Most-Famous Magic Dragon

Piff the Magic Dragon been daydreaming about winning, and he takes a backseat ride in a Cadillac convertible through Times Square to drum up support. 

He has Howie autograph a $20 bill, which he turns into a voucher for one free magic trick performed by Mr. Piffles. He hands Heidi a little bag, then takes one of her rings and ties it to the dog’s neck. He unveils a small cannon, loads in Mr. Piffles and fires a stuffed animal version across the stage. Then the stuffed dog falls over, and Piff accuses him of being drunk. 

He puts a sheet over the fake dog and turns him into the real one, then has Heidi open the bag to reveal two walnuts (formerly belonging to Mr. Piffles). Heidi chooses one, and Piff cracks it open to reveal the original autographed $20. Heidi also cracks the second one to reveal an actual nut. 

The end part was cool, but the rest of it was too slow for my liking. The comedy was okay, but there wasn’t anything magical about any of it. So while I like him, the down periods are nearly buzz-worthy. He needed more magic, even if it was small magic.

Mel B. loves his dry humor and silliness, and how even though things don’t make sense in the beginning, it all comes full circle. Howard loves Piff, but he doesn’t think this was the strongest performance because he had trouble following it. Howie repeats over and over that it’s going to be a tough night, while Heidi believes Piff has captured America’s heart. 

Paul Zerdin Kicks Off the Second Half

I’m a bit disappointed he’s not performing last or second to last, but with five acts out of the way, this could be the turning point in the night. His intro consists of his two dummies — the cute one and the creepy bald baby — praising him before some Spice Girls karaoke. 

This time, he’s got a new puppet, who is the grandfather of the other two. He makes a joke about confusing his hearing aid with his suppository, then hits on Heidi. An assistant swaps gramps out for the creepy baby, who requests a lullaby. Paul sings and the baby talks back. Then it’s time for puppet Sam’s return, and Paul swaps voices so that Sam has his voice and he talks with Sam’s. 

He switches back and “loses” his real voice, prompting Sam to speculate that he’s talking out of his you-know-what. Then grandpa returns, and it’s a one-man show with all four characters interacting. 

This is one of those times where someone is so good at something so difficult that it looks too easy and therefore underwhelming. But he’s having a conversation with three people who don’t exist, yet it’s so believable that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching anything special. It’s like when you talk to people in your dreams, and you believe that you’re interacting with them. But in reality, you’re supplying everything they say with your subconscious. 

Howie loves him, but he finds all of the voices to be too similar. Howard dubs Paul a master of what he does, and he applauds him for taking ventriloquism to new heights. Heidi recognizes that this was the most difficult performance, and Mel B. appreciates the polish on the act.

America’s Got Talent Renewed for Season 11 >>>

The CraigLewis Band is Hungry for Victory

No act has stepped up thus far, which opens the door for the singers to gain some traction. They have huge voices and remember where they come from, and their goal is to come with everything they have and leave it onstage.

They’re singing “Beggin'” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and while they sound spectacular as always, the song choice leaves something to be desired. They needed the ultimate crowd-pleaser, be it emotional or a true head-bobber, and this isn’t it. They get a standing ovation from everyone, but it doesn’t have the hook that people will remember a few hours from now. I have nothing negative to say about the performance itself, but I’m disappointed that they didn’t go bigger.

Howard screams that they’re stars and took things to another level, while Heidi praises their energy and showmanship. Mel B. is finally awake and suggests they brought the house down, comparing them to special guest performers instead of contestants. Howie had predicted that comedy would win, but now he’s not so sure.

Derek Hughes Hopes His Risks Keep Paying Off

He’s a dad looking to end a life on the road, and each week has gotten more and more about his wife and kids. His boys and his family are his world, and they’re the most important audience he will ever have. 

It starts off with just Derek and a piece of rope to show off a “square knot,” then he announces that he’ll be showing off the first three minutes of his Vegas show. He makes a DJ and backup dancers appear as if from nowhere, then he pulls out three pieces of rope and incorporates Howie before making them change lengths. 

If that’s how he’s beginning his show in Vegas, I’m not buying a ticket because this is unfortunately boring as all hell. To end things, he has Howard cut a piece of rope in half, which he then reconnects. What the heck just happened? That’s like first-grade magic.

Howard is shocked that Derek went with rope tricks for his final routine, and he calls it underwhelming. It dragged on, and Derek is capable of so much more. Howie says magic is all about presentation, and because we’ve seen the rope trick before, it needed to be epic and exciting. And this wasn’t engaging. Mel B., like Howie, was distracted by the dancers. 

Heidi doesn’t get to chime in, presumably for time constraints, but poor Derek looks like he’s about to cry. He’s going to remember this devastating moment for a long time. But Howard is right. He is so much better than this.

Stevie Starr Swallows the Lead

It’s been a disappointing night, and with just two acts to go, there is little time left to turn things around. And with the Professional Regurgitator up next, it means Drew Lynch has scored the pimp spot. Stevie walks through his standard orphanage backstory, but he points out that when he dies, he’s taking regurgitation with him. But first, he’s planned a “wow, wow, wow, how did he just do that?” moment.

He starts off by swallowing five thumb tacks, followed by a strong magnet. How many thumb tacks would Heidi like stuck to the magnet? She picks four, and he coughs up the magnet with four tacks, followed by the last one.

He then incorporates Nick Cannon to help him with the rest of the act, first swallowing lighter gas and having Nick test that nothing is leaking out by putting a flame in his mouth. He then releases a bit onto the lighter to show in a fireball that it’s there, before putting the gas in a bubble. Nick lights the bubble in another fireball, along with Stevie’s arm, and I’m not sure that part was supposed to happen. But Stevie plays it off, even if he needs minor medical attention.

Heidi calls him a million-dollar act, while Mel B. dubs him a showstopper every time. Then those time constraints kick in.

Drew Lynch Closes the Show

The most inspiring story of season 10 will also provide its final performance, with our resident stuttering comic hoping to put together the set of his life. He’s got his amazing girlfriend, Veronica, and now his parents and siblings by his side, and unless he bombs, he might be the favorite to win the whole thing. 

He comes out to “Call Me Maybe,” and says he’s not sexually active because he’s saving money. He’d be a bad parent because he has no conviction in his voice, and numbers take him a long time. In fact, by the time he gave his girlfriend his digits, it was their anniversary. He then apologizes to Howard for laughing at himself before launching into a explanation of exactly how difficult it is to give out things like numbers and e-mail addresses while stuttering. Veronica thought his name had two D’s, but in reality, hers are more like C’s. Her boobs are smaller, you see, so when he counts, he says “Boobachusetts.”

Howard still might not like the self-laughter, but he praises Drew’s writing and dedication. Howie is proud, and Drew trumped all the other comedy. Mel B. wants more and to laugh all day along with him, and Heidi declares that no matter what happens, he’s already won. 

Nick asks what he would do if he won the million bucks, and he caps off his set by replying that Veronica took on three jobs so that he could chase his dreams, and if he’s the winner, he will graciously let her return to work.

Who is the Winner of America’s Got Talent?

That will be for America to decide, as the final meaningful performances are in the books. It was a disappointing night as a whole, opening the door for Drew Lynch to possibly claim the title. He’s got all the necessary variables, not to mention all the people his story has touched who will vote for him regardless of his set. 

He’d be the feel-good story, but is he the most deserving? Stevie Starr and Piff the Magic Dragon made their cases, as did Paul Zerdin, whose use of technique over content may have hurt his chances compared to his other “moments.” 

Who do you thing should take the title and who might you be rooting for despite a letdown in the finals? We’ve got two more hours of fluff, filler and fun pairings to get through before the verdict is revealed. And only then will summer truly be over.

The America’s Got Talent season 10 finale airs Wednesday, September 16 at 9pm on NBC.

(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order