We’re nearing the finish line of the 11th season of America’s Got Talent, and with half the field set for the finals, 11 more acts are hitting the stage hoping to join the Top 10.
The first set of semifinal results were mostly predictable, though few anticipated walking Italian stereotype Sal Valentinetti besting Deadly Games, Blake Vogt and Malevo to snag a spot without needing to be Dunkin’ Saved or get help from the judges.
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He advanced along with Tape Face, Jon Dorenbos, Laura Bretan and Grace VanderWaal, meaning it appears that at least half the finalists will be singers. That number could increase with a few more surprises, though some nutty things would need to happen in order for more than two to advance from this group.
Lineup and Projections in the Year of the Singer
This group of 11 includes another five vocalists, but only Brian Justin Crum and Calysta Bevier seem like locks headed into the performances. Linkin Bridge is a contender to bounce back from a subpar quarterfinals, but they’d be hard-pressed to leapfrog the favorites.
The acts joining Crum and Bevier with that designation are The Clairvoyants, Steven Brundage and Viktor Kee, with Jayna Brown, Kadan Bart Rockett (please?!) and Kadie Lynn Roberson seeming like obvious cuts.
That leaves Sofie Dossi and wildcard The Passing Zone on the outs, but both have the skill to make some noise. I just don’t know what Sofie could show us that’s different (maybe leave the archery out this time?). And the comedic jugglers have already been eliminated once (twice if you count their appearance in the season 1 finals).
But, as always, championships aren’t won on paper, and that’s why they play the games. The live blog begins now.
Jayna Brown Leads Off
Music has always been the saving grace for 14-year-old Jayna through tough times, particularly when she and her mom were homeless. Now she’s in a performing arts school, and AGT has brought her out of her shell. Winning would mean buying her mom a house, and she’s not ready to let this dream go.
She’s singing Katy Perry’s “Rise,” and it’s her best vocal performance thus far. It’s controlled and restrained, and she nails the big notes. Ultimately, I don’t know if it will be enough, unless others falter, but she couldn’t have done better. She stepped up and exceeded expectation in the biggest moment, and she could throw a wrench into the best-laid plans.
Simon calls it her best by a clear mile, and it’s the one for which she’ll be remembered. Howie believes she set the bar high, while Mel B. loves that she has the big voice to do such a big song, and Heidi praises her depth and soul.
Kadan Bart Rockett Takes Us to School
Kadan and sis Brooklyn are the babies of the competition, and he proposes that they work together this time instead of trying to get revenge on each other. They want to be the youngest kids to have their own professional magic show, and a little sibling rivalry won’t get in their way.
They unveil a class photo and have the judges choose one of the students, who then “magically” appears from behind a curtain. They build a cardboard house around the child, and then the door opens and the entire class runs out. It ends with the house collapsing to reveal his teacher inside, and it continues with their cute-but-not-impressive trend. The house was falling apart the whole time, and the hole the kids were climbing out of was visible to the naked eye. Like I’ve said all along that it’s great for your kid’s birthday party, but it’s not a million-dollar act.
Howie loves it and hopes America will vote for them, Mel B. points out that it wasn’t slick but that they pushed through, Heidi believes they deserve an A-plus, and Simon praises their showmanship and likability.
Can Kadie Lynn Roberson Stand Out?
She’s a 12-year-old country singer whose parents are older because they adopted her when they were in their 50’s, and no matter how endearing she may be, she’s the least deserving of all the semifinalists. She probably ranks 10th of the 10 singers that made it this far, so she has her work cut out for her.
It’s a rendition of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” and I’m chalking my goosebumps up to the fact that this is the song I danced to with my mother at my wedding last year. That being said, it’s an up-and-down performance that reveals she’s not quite as seasoned or polished as she’d need to be to move forward.
Mel could feel strength and confidence oozing out of Kadie, and she urges viewers to vote. Heidi praises her poise and says well done, while Simon is blown away by all aspects of the performance. Howie is the only one who is remotely honest by pointing out how tough it is for singers this season. A bunch of softies on this panel.
Viktor Kee Drops the Ball
This guy has been nothing short of amazing and is easily the best, most elegant and artistic juggler we’ve ever seen. He’s dedicating this performance to his mentor, who passed away before Viktor made it to the big stage, and it was like losing his father for a second time. He failed to catch one ball last time, and it still wasn’t enough to derail his quest.
Viktor emerges from a box in the center of the stage, and his little glowing orb hovers for a bit before a whole bunch of balls drop from the sky (with one minor drop). He juggles them. That is all.
Heidi is a huge fan and makes a bunch of ball jokes, and she could watch him all day long. Simon loves the imagination and believes Viktor is a star who deserves a spot in the finals. Howie compares him to Baryshnikov, and Mel thinks he has a chance to win the whole thing.
I love Viktor and have no doubt that he should be safe, but my only cause for concern is that he lacked a crescendo moment. If there had been one, I would have had better words to use in my description of his act.
Linkin Bridge Aims to Rebound
The guys from Louisville have had a tough go in life, dealing with incarcerated parents and foster care, and they’ve relied on music to provide an escape. They’re endearing, inspirational and easy to root for, and this song is about the innocence of children dealing with harsh realities.
It’s Lukas Graham’s “7 Years,” and unfortunately, it’s not their best. The solo is forgettable, and the harmonies are overwhelming, like four dudes screaming at me. There’s a lyrical flub in the beginning, and you have to wonder if that knocked them off their game. There are some quality moments, and I still love them, but it’s likely the end of the line for them.
Simon calls it stunning on every level, and he can see what their record will look like. Howie wants to be the one to tell them that they’ve made it, regardless of what happens. Mel B. dubs them “in it to win it” from the first note, and they put Boyz II Men to shame (whaaaattt?) and were better than the original (whoa, cool it, lady). Heidi congratulates them for a job well done.
The Passing Zone Offers Comic Relief
These guys were only brought back because they promised to work Simon into their routine, but they’re seasoned professionals who have been working together for decades, and they have the potential to step up and advance.
They summon Simon to the stage, where they tell him, “You don’t move, and nobody gets hurt.” They make some jokes about the potential for Simon’s death then reveal a hellscape that they claim is Simon’s living room. They plan on spinning some plates and juggling flaming torches, but it takes so damn long to get there that I’ve completely lost interest by the time they light everything on fire.
It’s the most fun Howie has had all season, Mel is a fan of the banter, and Heidi wants high fives for bringing them back. Simon loves the Passing Zone but hates his panel-mates. It’s a fun interlude for a clever duo, but they’re a one-off for the judges’ amusement.
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Calysta Bevier is Only Human
She’s a cancer survivor and yet another inspiring young singer who knows more than most about fighting for your dreams. She was lucky, but many of the kids she met in the hospital getting chemo didn’t make it. She’s celebrating one year in remission, and it means the world to her to go back and visit those who need hope.
She’s tackling Christina Perri’s “Human,” and if I’m being honest, it’s not great. Even though she exudes a star quality that elevates her above the competition on a fundamental level, there’s far too many pitchy moments and she fails to nail the emotional connection. She’ll still get plenty of votes, but she may not be the lock that we previously presumed.
Simon heaps praise, but you can tell he’s holding back from being completely honest. Howie echoes his previous statement that she’s made it no matter what happens, while Mel B. admits that Calysta lacked a breakout note. Heidi calls Calysta a superhuman, and she got swept up in the emotion.
Everyone, even Viktor, seems to be lacking that one “moment.” Still, at this point, he and Jayna are my top two with four to go.
Steven Brundage Proves That He Deserves to Be Here
The man who required a social media campaign to overturn the judges’ mistake is in a prime position to make a statement, and he’s attempting a new trick for the first time on stage. And, yes, it involves more than 200 Rubik’s Cubes.
He has a giant tower of cubes, and there are more ways to mix it up than there are atoms in the known universe. But first, he instantly solves a pair of cubes for Simon and Howie then breaks out a deck of cards with celebrity names written on them. He has Nick pick a card, and the judges mix up cubes until Nick tells them to stop. He places the four cubes into the tower then spins it around to reveal a portrait of Brad Pitt, which matches the name on Nick’s card.
Heidi loves the new and creative ways that Steven invents magic, and Simon calls him the most improved contestant on the show. Howie thinks the portrait looks more like him than Brad Pitt, and there’s no time for Mel.
Sofie Dossi Flexes Her Muscles
She does for contortion what Viktor does for juggling and Tape Face for miming, in that she makes interesting a genre that is generally forgettable. She’s done the same thing each time, more or less, so she’s going in a completely different direction.
She begins twisted up inside a glass box then climbs up to her hand planks. She does some mind-boggling more-than-in-half bending to a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” leaning so far over herself that it’s a scientific impossibility that her arms can support her body at that angle. The strength is incredible, and she then grabs a hoop suspended above the stage for just-as-impressive dangling-by-her-neck aerials.
I’m a fan of hers, and there’s a greater production value than anyone who has come before her in the art form. She takes contortion to another level.
Simon is so impressed by the imagination being put into these performances that he feels like he’s watching the Olympics, while Howie stresses that the routine was even more astounding in person. Mel B. was captivated and dubs it the best of the night, and Heidi appreciates that she mixed it up from what we’ve seen.
The Clairvoyants Can See You
Their creepy backstory du jour is about the time they moved into a 350-year-old house and found a book about clairvoyancy that changed their lives. Their previous routines have all involved objects that the judges were holding, but this time, they’ll be diving into the judges’ minds and tapping their deepest, darkest secrets.
They have Howie jot down a question he’s always wanted to ask Simon, Mel B. write the name of a person she hasn’t seen in a while, and Heidi recall an intimate kiss and the setting in which it transpired. They call Simon up on stage and have him pick a time. He goes with 7:04, and Thommy pulls a clock from a bag that matches the time.
They call the other judges on stage and accurately identify their notes (“Can I have a raise?” grandma and a plane), then they open Amelie’s pendant to reveal a piece of paper with Mel’s grandmother’s name printed on it. I have no idea how they do any of it, but this delicious, macabre show was a bit long-winded. Still, I can’t imagine they’re in trouble.
Howie calls them beyond human, a spooked Mel’s mind is blown, Heidi doesn’t think we need a fortune teller to know they’ll be in the next round, and Simon says the experience is like being in a ghost movie.
Brian Justin Crum Scores the Pimp Spot
I’ve been a critic of his disingenuous backstory, but I’ve also been a fan of his stellar performances. And, in my opinion, his “In the Air Tonight” is the best of the entire season. His intro is again focused on working for a car service instead of his national theatre tours and stints on Broadway, but whatever. The guy can sing.
He closes the show with a haunting rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and while it’s a shade below his last time on stage, his voice is flawless. There’s better song choices to forge an emotional connection, and the speak-singing at the start is less than captivating, but he’s vocal perfection.
Mel B. compares him to Beyonce in that no one else matters once he opens his mouth, while Heidi praises his passion and intensity. Simon didn’t like the opening, but Brian found his pace in leading to an exceptional second half. Howie calls it the best of the night, but America has the responsibility of picking which five acts to advance.
America has some interesting decisions to make, as I count six acts (Brian Justin Crum, The Clairvoyants, Jayna Brown, Steven Brundage, Viktor Kee and Sofie Dossi) worthy of advancing based solely on these performances.
Then you have fan favorites Calysta Bevier and Linkin Bridge, who should get votes even though they were less than perfect. It’s an uphill climb for The Passing Zone, Kadan Bart Rockett and Kadie Lynn Roberson, but you never know when it comes to kids and country musicians.
Which acts were your favorite and who do you think deserves to fill out the Top 10? Who disappointed you and who surprised you the most? Jayna Brown stands out as the shock of the night for me, and apparently for the producers as well since she was slotted in the undesirable first position.
But at the end of the day, can anyone — anyone — beat Brian Justin Crum? Only time will tell if it is, indeed, the year of the singer.
America’s Got Talent season 11 airs Tuesdays at 8pm and Wednesdays at 9pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)