What a strange and encouraging episode of America’s Got Talent! The second installment of auditions bucks the normal trend because nearly every act is great, and it makes for a much more entertaining two hours than what we sat through in the season 9 premiere.

I don’t know if they were focused on reintroducing the judges or just trying to ease us into things, but I was legitimately concerned after the first round that we were looking ahead at a long and sad four months. But these acts really stepped it up and offer a lot of hope going forward.

Sure, there were a lot of advancing performers last week, but nothing jumped out at me as having a clear path to the live shows. Most of the unique acts lacked polish, while the uber-talented ones were in desperate need of a hook. 

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That changed right off the bat this time, and the momentum runs through the entire episode. In fact, we don’t even get our first rejection until 52 minutes in, and even that person (somehow) gets two yeses. 

The only negative thing I have to say is that, unfortunately, all the groups have terribly uncreative names considering the innovation level they have worked into their routines. But you can judge that for yourselves.

On a side note, I still love me some Heidi Klum. Even into her 40s, she may be the perfect woman. And she’s rocking the fishnets, while Mel B. puts her considerable assets on display. And Howie is still bald. And a germaphobe. They even have a guy sanitizing the buzzer before the show starts. 

Hostess with the Mostess Nick Cannon, later to be rocking a banana-colored suit, welcomes us while racing around a track at the NASCAR Experience in California. And it’s on to the acts!

The Good

Talk about a hook. The first act is the Partridge Family reincarnate, with 12 siblings (no twins!) ranging in age from 21 to 3 putting on a musical clinic. And man, are they a good-looking family. There’s a guitar, a box drum, a stand-up bass and even an accordion, and it’s a variety show in waiting. If that could work these days, the Willis Clan will be the ones to pull it off. Get it? Because their last name is Willis?

A pair of LA magicians named David and Leeman are up next, and their act is called David Leeman. Teaching high school philosophy and barista-ing don’t pay the bills that well, so they use psuedo-phrenology to squeeze Howie’s head and trick him into not being able to read. It’s a goof that’s probably not that difficult to do, but they sell it with their showmanship. The guy holding the word cards is shaking the entire time, though, so there’s still some nerves to work out. 

There’s a quick montage of dancers, including a chick on a pole who I would have given more screen time. She’s like the redheaded Cinderella of pole dancing, and I’d love to see if my glass dollar fits. 

Julia Goodwin, who goes by Julia Goodwin, is a 15-year-old high school sophomore who sings Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” It’st very good, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the judges. It’s such a simple song that it doesn’t need all these runs, even though I get that it shows off her chops. Still, if this was American Idol, Harry Connick, Jr., would be yelling. 

The tap dancing duo Sean and Luke, made up of a guy named Sean and a guy named Luke, have been working together for years. At ages 17 and 18, wearing backwards hats and letter jackets, sort of make tap dancing cool. They dance to ’80s and ’90s hip hop and reveal shirts that read “White Boyz” at the end. The ladies love them, but Howard is the lone judge who says he doesn’t need to see them again. They have no chance, but it’s fun.

Then there’s a montage of a karate group, a sword balancer and a dude named Kevin Taylor who punches through glass.

Action sports stunt team Real Encounter is also a ministry group, though Howard assumes they deal in pornography. But it’s quite the opposite, as they jump for God, and there’s three guys on motocross bikes and one dude on a Schwinn. They put on a show of epic proportions outside the theater, with crazy bike flips with midair leg kicks over a 75-foot chasm. I don’t know how I feel about this type of act in a show like this, but they certainly take danger to a new level.

Slam is a group of acrobatic kids and adults who dunk basketballs off a trampoline.

And Flight Crew Jump Rope shockingly does cool tricks with jump ropes.

Then there’s XPogo, and I’m sure you can’t figure out what kind of uber-impressive stunts they do. 

We get a brief glimpse of a kid rapper, lots of kid dancers and a contortionist group.

Triple Threat is a group of card throwing triplets. They’re all 8 years old and in second grade, and a kid named Dominick deals with the cards while his siblings are the assistants. He learned the craft from former card-tossing AGT contestant Rick Smith, Jr., and he learned well. He slices celery held in his brother’s and Nick Cannon’s mouths, pops a balloon and sticks cards in a piece of Styrofoam. He also chucks cards up to the balcony, which is impressive for someone throwing anything.

Miguel Dakota, 21, is a heartthrob in a lucky flannel shirt and a winter cap, and he dropped out of college to work construction and provide for his mom and three siblings after his dad left. He also plays a mean guitar and rocks out to Alex Clare’s “Too Close.” He has to learn to rein in his emotions to avoid being screamy at times, but the judges and ladies in the audience swoon over his look and sound. 

Abigail Baird actually bothered to come up with a clever name for her inventive act, and Aerial Animation is a pretty revolutionary way of storytelling. It’s her imagination come to life, as she hovers in the air and interacts with on-screen drawings behind her. It’s a great idea, but I don’t see it reaching its pinnacle with her at the center. We’ve seen better acrobats with smoother and less choppy aerials, and she might be better off keeping the idea and letting a professional do the work. 

The judges then put through another dance troupe, which may be the latest from the Miami studio that enters every year and usually makes the top six.

The show caps off with Salsa dancers John and Andrew, who dance under the title of — you guessed it — John & Andrew. It’s an unconventional pairing, as one is “super straight” and one is “super gay,” and it’s like the dance version of the movie Blades of Glory, except it’s awesome. The fact that they’re both guys allows them to reach speeds and precision more impressive than expected. Afterwards, Howard and Howie get a dance lesson. 

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The Bad

There is very little to discuss in this category, for once. After more than 45 minutes of quality performances, Grand Master Qi Feilong takes the stage. Energy is his talent, while English is not, and I have no idea any of the things he says as he Kung Fus around and breaks chop sticks with a dollar bill. Then Nick punches him in the stomach and kicks him in the crotch. And yes, he somehow gets two yeses. 

Finally, after a montage of bad magicians, including one whose disappearing butterfly is spotted on the floor after the trick is over, we get Mad Jack. He’s got an eye patch and does a card trick where Howard pulls the selected card from Jack’s butt crack. Dunno how it got there, don’t wanna know how it smelled afterwards. Three no’s, and we’ll see you next time. Maybe put that patch over your brown eye instead. 

How Do You Choose?

After “One Act to Watch” writer Catherine Cabanela and I agreed last week that buddy opera singers Acte II had the most potential, I don’t envy her task sorting through the more than a dozen quality acts this time around.

Any number of them could make long runs, particularly singer Miguel, stunt team Real Encounter and any one of pogo/jump rope/dunk team. I’d also like to see what the aerial act could be with a better performer at the helm, but it will be interesting to see what Abigail does next.

Which act was your favorite, and who do you hope to see make a run? And which of the advancing acts just doesn’t have the chops? Tune in next week, when the talent will hopefully continue at this level. I’d hate to see a week devoted to the embarrassing acts. Let’s save that for YouTube week.

Watch America’s Got Talent on Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC

(Image 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