Viewers took the decision-making reins from the judges as the America’s Got Talent season 12 quarterfinals got underway and, not surprisingly, the results were every bit as disappointing. Apparently, America’s undying (and deserving) love of its military extends to geeky choir boys who name their a capella group after the only place they can practice out of earshot of fellow cadets.

I still refuse to believe that at least a whopping eight acts garnered more votes than the death defying Bello Nock, who had me on the edge of my seat even if his near fall was intentional. (It’s been pointed out to me that he pulled the same slippery stunt during his time with Ringling Bros., in which case it’s simply convincing showmanship.) I’m sticking with my belief that his act was deemed too dangerous for live television, vote totals be damned.

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Lineup and Projections

The second batch of 12 to hit the big stage at the Dolby Theatre is every bit as singer-laden as the first, though I’d argue it’s devoid of the volume of favorites that dominated last time. Johnny Manuel and Mandy Harvey are the only locks, while Celine Tam (Laverne Cox golden buzzer aside) and The Masqueraders barely deserved to make it out of Judge Cuts. 

Mirror Image is in a class by itself, and the fierce twins will only advance if the “vote for the worst” crowd gets its way. Finally, Evie Clair has selected perfect songs for her sweet voice, but will her terrible sob story be enough to carry her through? Let’s be honest. Probably.

A weaker bunch of vocalists opens the door for the novelty acts to shine, but unfortunately, this group doesn’t look particularly strong there either. Light Balance and Merrick Hanna are the best bets, and after that, it’s anyone’s guess. It’s shameful that Brobots and Mandroidz and Pompeyo Family Dogs are even here, and that Eric Jones beat out Tom London. Still, it’s impossible to root against a magician.

That leaves escape artist Demian Aditya as the unknown, who at worst must show us something different than his nearly identical past tricks. And not for nothing, his fate will likely be decided by the overdramatic antics of his “worried” wife. On to the show! 

Bromance and Droidbots Kick Things Off

They’re billing the night as a “total talent eclipse” because I guess something happened with the moon this week. All I know is I saw the sun disappear and I started screaming. First up is the dance group, and their advancement convinced several parents that pop and lock can be just as fruitful as studying. So that’s a win for them, at least.

It’s a solid albeit crotch-grabbing performance, but like Just Jerk, there’s no signature aspect to distinguish them from all the similar acts we’ve seen over the years. They’re good, but I won’t remember them. I mean, Mel’s white X-Men hair is more memorable than these guys. Still, in typical going-first fashion, they’re a decent benchmark. 

Howie didn’t get a wow, but Mel surmises it’s because there were so many wows. Heidi believes they “brought it,” and Simon urges them to chase their dreams.

Celine Tam Believes in Miracles

Her intro is all about a little 9-year-old being amazed by the big city, the place where dreams come true, and she’s singing a song that encapsulates her hopes and ambitions.

It’s Mariah Carey’s “When You Believe,” and the only thing I can’t believe is that this ballsy tot is trying to tackle Mariah freaking Carey. She has a fine voice, and this is okay for a high school talent show. But especially considering she’s never had much star power, the song is entirely too big. Think about Johnny Manuel singing Whitney and then extinguish any candles Celine may be holding. 

Mel can’t believe Celine is only 9, and she applauds the bravery on a poor song choice. Heidi completely disagrees because Celine is the cutest little thing and belongs on Broadway — even though she doesn’t. Howie is deluded into thinking the lack of polish is a positive, while Simon continues the babying by praising her control. C’mon, people. 

The Demon Twins from Hell

Hey, did you guys know Will and Grace is coming back? If not, you must fast forward through every single commercial. It’s a good lead-in for Mirror Image because these twins are like more flamboyant Jacks but with added confidence and less talent. Apparently, they are popular in school, and they announce that they’re “twin it to win it.”

It starts off with a rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” that only these guys could pull off, then it’s time for the dance portion. They employ a crew of eight backup dancers to show off their moves to “Poison” and “Jump Jump.” Maybe it’d be fine if I wasn’t so over them, and Simon caps it off with an X.

Simon pans the singing and the dancing, and he still has no idea what the act is supposed to be. Heidi dubs him a party pooper, calls the boys “the face of Prozac” and claims she’s rooting for them. Mel applauds them for bringing the fire and energy and being thoroughly entertaining, and she loses all her Celine Tam cred by begging America to vote for them. Howie is no longer sure what words mean. 

Johnny Manuel is Not Going

The 32-year-old had a recording contract at 14 and traveled with some of the biggest names in pop and hip-hop until getting dropped by the label three years later. Now he’s back on the path, doing things his way and as his true self.

It’s a risky choice to go with “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” but thankfully his voice is so insanely powerful that he can pull off anything. I think his Whitney was better, but I hope anyone intent on voting for Celine did so already. Because they don’t belong on the same stage. 

Simon offers a standing ovation, labels him a diva (as a compliment) and declares this “his moment.” He believes Johnny was in the wrong lane two decades ago, and if he were a Broadway producer searching for the big male vocal lead, this is his guy. Howie is happy the show has finally begun, Heidi doesn’t love when Seal is right and Mel has one word: amazing.

Merrick Hanna is Multifaceted

This 12-year-old is a dancer, a robot and a story teller, and his performance here is about a boy who has no family. He starts his preparation by figuring out the tale he wants to weave, and then he choreographs moves to convey the proper emotions. So, yeah, he’s good.

He employs a projection background that adds to the story and performance value but also detracts from an intent focus on Merrick himself, which is advantageous if that makes sense. And while I was somewhat of a bored fan before, this production value takes the overall concept to an entirely different level. 

Howie loves his originality and relates because they’re the only ones without low-cut tops. Mel was mesmerized and in awe, Heidi thinks he’s special and Simon declares it the best of the night.

Eric Jones Goes Through the Looking Glass

The man who bested the tech magician walks us through his childhood, his love of magic and the pain of losing his father. His dad never got a chance to see him become a father himself or perform on America’s biggest stage, but he’s sure that Pops is proud.

He hands Mel a poker chip, has Simon inspect a sheet of glass and has Howie sign the 4 of Spades and put it back in the pack. Heidi and Mel hold the glass while Eric makes the chip seemingly travel through it. Howie shuffles the deck and smears it across a giant glass pane, and then Eric pulls the signed card through it. He caps it off by making himself move through the glass. 

I could be mistaken, but I feel like I saw him pull the card from his jacket while Howie was creating a distraction with the deck (and there are unverified claims that the signature was in a different spot). Either way, the setup was ridiculously slow, and while it was cool, I’d be lying if I said I was captivated.

Mel was amazed, Heidi enjoys that Eric picked a “through the glass” theme, Simon wants more work on the showmanship and Howie claims to prefer low-key anti-showmanship. 

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The Masqueraders are Just Average Guys

These aging soul singers have been together for half a century, and despite a single in the ’60s, their careers were sidetracked by various factors, segregation not the least of them. They never got their song to America, but now they’re ready for the world to hear it.

It’s that original ditty, titled “I’m Just an Average Guy,” though sounds like they might not have sung it in 50 years. There are pitch and harmonizing issues galore, but I’m going to let them have their moment because no one is voting for them based on the quality of this performance.

Mel praises their feel-good effect, but she found the music to be overproduced. Simon congratulates them for finally getting their record out. Howie calls them “classic” and is proud to have watched a dream come true. And Heidi feels bad for everyone who has been denied their presence on the airways for so long.

Light Balance Gets Technical

The Ukrainian dancers earned Tyra’s golden buzzer with their fantastical LED costumes and less-than-crisp dance routine. They’ve overcome a lot of adversity to get here, and they view this experience as an opportunity to give their families the lives they deserve. 

Unfortunately, there’s a technical problem, so we’re going to the dress rehearsal. It’s another visually awe-inspiring routine that includes a demon wolf DJ and will certainly ensure their safety, but the lack of precision persists. I wonder if it would’ve been tighter live, but it’s phenomenal nonetheless. 

Simon praises their creativity, Howie appreciates that the judges got to watch it the same way that folks at home did, Mel tells them not to be disappointed about the glitch and Heidi can’t even imagine all the preparation that goes into something so elaborate. 

(Note: The video plays even better on YouTube, without the production error. And I’d still love to see Just Jerk in their getups.)

Evie Clair Breaks Your Heart

Her father, who will likely die from colon cancer, is still fighting the good fight, working at the prison and bishoping at the local church. I only pray he’ll make it through this whole process.

Evie is showing off her piano skills on this one, and Birdy’s “Wings” is another solid choice to highlight her strengths without putting a spotlight on her weaknesses. As I said earlier, she has a sweet voice, but she’s no powerhouse. She might have helped her cause with a more recognizable song, and I’m not sure if this one has enough oomph behind it to get her through. Her backstory combined with a mediocre night of talent, however, might.

Howie is thankful yet speechless that she’s sharing this painful journey, while Mel was forced to listen to the words because she wasn’t familiar with the song (which I initially thought was called “Birdy” by Wings). It made her think of her own dad, and all of America is proud of her brilliance. Heidi praises her strength, and Simon calls her “one heck of a brave young lady” and sends his love to her dad. 

Unfortunately, Pops wasn’t strong enough to make the trip, and even I tear up when she wishes her parents a happy 20th wedding anniversary.

Demian Aditya Escapes Reality

His parents wanted him to be something boring and normal like an accountant, but he’s always been in love with danger and yearned for a life on the edge. He claims he’s attempting something never seen before, that requires 90 seconds of controlling his breath, heart rate and nerves, and if he messes up, it will mean his life is over. He calls it “the death drop.”

Demian climbs into a wooden coffin suspended high above the stage and held in place by a single rope stretched above a blowtorch. He’s handcuffed and the lid is nailed shut, and he has roughly a minute and a half before the box falls down on three flaming metal spikes.

It appears that there’s another technical glitch, unfortunately, because the rope breaks and the box stays suspended. It drops at an angle instead of straight down, meaning one side falls first, wedging it on the metal rods. There’s some awkward moments of silence before Demian appears behind the judges’ panel.

The general consensus of the judges is confusion, and Simon and Mel hit their Xs. They claim to be unsure what was supposed to happen, but it’s painfully obvious. It lacked the dramatic explosion, but at its core, it is still the same trick he’s done previously, only with a slightly different mechanism. 

America’s Got Talent Goes to the Dogs

It’s a challenge to get back on track after that, but hopefully these pooches have what it takes. There’s 18 dogs in the Pompeyo family, including way too many poodles, though it’s worth noting that my Frenchie (Ned) is particularly interested in the act once the barking begins.

There’s a elaborate Sahara set as Katy Perry’s “Roar” blares, and pups in lion outfits (and one big guy dressed like a zebra) perform the standard well-trained bevy of tricks, including a safari conga line. It’s the closest to Olate Dogs they’ve managed so far, and on this pitiful night, I’m sure we’ll see them again. It’s silly and fun, and I never thought I’d be saying this, but it’s one of my favorites and provides a necessary break.

It made Heidi laugh and Simon smile with pure happiness, and Howie believes families will pay to see something like this. For Mel, this was a high point in a roller coaster of a show. Simon sums it up accurately when he says, “Dogs just saved America’s Got Talent.”

Mandy Harvey Gets the Pimp Spot

She was a music student who lost her hearing, and she kept records of every sound she could remember as she drifted without purpose. Eventually, her parents eventually convinced her to rediscover her love. She always thought you needed to hear music, but now she truly believes you can feel it too. Simon’s golden buzzer changed everything and reassembled the broken girl, and now she’s actually happy that everything is different from the future she had dreamed of as a child.

It’s a simple setup, with some lights and Mandy solo in a white dress, and I’m assuming this is another original song on her ukulele. It’s capitvating and brilliant, and it’s evident that pure talent is on display. 

Simon doesn’t have time to say everything he’d like to, so he settles on “You will make a difference, and that was stunning.” Heidi loves the raw, real and honest arrangement, which was simply powerful. Mel calls her a miracle worker who makes the impossible possible, and she doesn’t think Mandy realizes her impact. Howie closes it out with a plea for votes because Mandy makes us feel the music too.

Does AGT Have Bed Bugs? Because That was a Bomb

Not “the bomb,” but “a bomb.” What an overall terrible display of talent, with maybe, what, three solid acts? One of which had to rely on a pre-taped rehearsal? I actually have a dog act and a magician who gave his trick away in my top seven! 

Based purely on quality by comparison, Mandy Harvey, Johnny Manuel, Merrick Hana, Light Balance and Pompeyo Family Dogs are safe. Evie Clair tugged enough heartstrings to win votes, and that leaves the final spot almost guaranteed to the somehow-still-worst-of-the-night Mirror Image. It’s like all the other acts had to do was show up. And they didn’t.

Who was your favorite and who let you down? Who do you think earned their spot and who will make it through simply because there’s no one else worth the vote? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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)

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