I know it seems hard to believe after 18 months and 277 episodes, but we’re actually hitting the home stretch of America’s Got Talent season 9. The final 12 semifinalists are about to hit the stage in the hopes of earning a spot in the Top 12, which will be whittled down to six before the last performances for the whole shebang.

Which means we only have two weeks left until Nick Cannon goes back to worrying about his pre-nup, Howard Stern goes back to focusing on being the handsome face of radio, Heidi Klum goes back to being gorgeous off camera, Mel B. goes back to bangers and mash, and Howie Mandel goes back to his germ-free bubble.

This whole holiday weekend thing is throwing me off, as I thought it was Monday all day until I got home from work. I also popped the question to the wonderful lady in my life over the weekend (of course she said yes, pshawww), and I’m packing up for a move, so it’s been busy times indeed! But hopefully I can pull it all together to watch a couple hours of summer television with my favorite people for whom I didn’t have to buy expensive finger jewelry. 

And while I’m here selfishly thinking about myself, 12 acts are simultaneously pacing around nervously in preparation for the biggest night of their lives on the biggest stage of their lives. And I bet it’s quite a scene when the entire cast of AcroArmy paces around at once. Christian Stoinev probably does it on his hands. While balancing Scooby on his feet (even though I’m hoping he ditches man’s best friend this time around).

Radio City Music Hall will welcome Emil and Dariel, Mat Franco, Christian Stoinev, Quintavious Johnson, Blue Journey, Jonah Smith, Jaycob Curlee, Baila Conmigo, Wendy Liebman, AcroArmy, Smoothini and Kelli Glover, before half of them (i.e. NOT Curlee, Conmigo or the Liebs) will join Emily West, Sons of Serendip, Miguel Dakota, David and Leeman, Mara Justine and Mike Super as America’s last hope for a million-dollar headlining act. 

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It was a bit of a shock to lose Andrey Moraru, Aerial Animation and Flight Crew Jump Rope all at the same time, but the trio under-performed and paid the price. Unlike how Mara Justine had no business winning the save, but here she is. And we all know how I feel about the Supes. 

But as it were, we’ve got four singers and two magicians in the Top 12, with four more singers and two magicians vying for the rest of the spots. That means we could, in theory, have an all magic/singing finale. Which acts are you excited to see again? Who do you think is a lock to advance, and who do you think could disappoint? 

Remember, the blog is live, so keep your comments coming as we get ready to narrow the field a little further. The summer might unofficially be over with Labor Day in our rear view mirrors and the kiddies heading back to school. But the AGT train chugs along for just a little bit longer. All aboard!

The LIVE Blog Begins Now

Nick Cannon welcomes us to the performances in his most dapper getup to date, sporting a dark suit with a shiny black shirt and a fancy hat to boot (and, of course, the signature “there’s no place like home” shoes). The story of the judges is the color, with Heidi rocking a pink dress and lipstick to match and Howie looking sleek in a blue blazer. Howard is fired up, jumping to his feet to get the show started. And that brings us to Jonah Smith.

This bluesy crooner got his start in the city that never sleeps, which offered him his first opportunity to quit the day jobs and focus on music. But then things slowed down, and it started to feel like the dream was slipping through his fingers. Now he’s back in the big city for a second chance.

He ditches the band for the opening bars of OneRepublic’s “Love Runs Out” before kicking it into high gear with the band and risers of background singers. It’s energetic and entertaining, and it’s a great way to kick things off. The first spot is tough to advance from, but he definitely left an impression. 

Mel B. was on her feet the entire time and loved it, and Howie and Heidi are equally positive. He is Howard’s favorite of the male singers, but America’s Judge calls the performance an opening number and not a closer. He’s spot-on with that, as this would be a great way to begin a concert, but it’s not how you would cap off the encore. You need to get better every time, and Howard worries this one wasn’t the best Jonah can do. 

Baila Conmigo Brings the Energy

These creepy yet adorable kid dancers were puddles of mush and tears after the judges picked them over Flight Crew Jump Rope to advance to the semifinals. Usually, there are separate groups of kids and adults, but the elder statesmen now realize the kids are the gimmick heart of the act and what America fell in love with. 

Despite what they just said, this one seems to feature the adults a lot more than the kids. They all kind of blend together in a blur of extreme-speed Salsa, and it’s just more of the same for me. I’m biased because this isn’t my cup of tea, but the audience seems to explode with energy and approval afterwards. 

Howie struggles to talk over the roar of the crowd, but he praises the kids while questioning if there were too many adults on stage. Howard says they’re great, but it’s always the same thing with the same feeling, and bringing out just the kids would mix it up. Heidi loved it, loved it, loved it, and Mel B. believes they did do different things this time and that it couldn’t possibly get any better. 

Jaycob Curlee Sings Your Song

Jaycob has had a tough go in life, but despite making it this far, his arc on the show hasn’t been all that rosy. After his spectacular audition, he has struggled because his voice isn’t strong enough for the big stage. It’s sweet and pleasing, but it’s also better suited for a coffee house. Still, he’s a great kid, and it’s nice that he’s writing back to all the fans who wrote him.

This time, it’s an acoustic rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song,” backlit by hundreds of candles. It’s honestly his best performance to date, as the song suits his quieter tendencies. It doesn’t need to be big to be good, but despite the fact that I got goosebumps (because I love that song and he did well), it just doesn’t hit hard enough.

Howard calls it his personal best and praises the song choice, and he felt the emotion this time. Heidi says the voice is there, but the stage presence is not. Mel B. thought he took a risk and calls the delivery “small,” but it’s up to America now. Howie makes Jaycob smile by reminding him where he is and how far he’s come.

Mat Franco Goes Early, Goes Long

I don’t know how I feel about favorite Mat Franco performing so early, but here goes. He’s been bumming around the country on the college circuit since we last saw him, to make ends meet and because this guy loves magic like the judges love themselves. Tonight, he’s debuting a brand new trick that’s never been done by him or anyone else. 

He starts by having Howard, Heidi and Howie pick cards (a six, a four and a two). But he doesn’t forget Mel, and he take a picture of the cards with her cell phone before dropping it in her Snapple cup. He takes it out, and she confirms it’s broken. So he takes it, puts it in a blanket and hits it with a hair dryer. It starts smoking, and then it vanishes. So he has Heidi call it, and it rings in a section of the audience. He pulls a knife and cuts open a seat, inside of which Mel finds her phone, turns it on and sees the original picture. THEN he reveals that he cut it out of seat number 642. 

(FYI, I love how the YouTube post calls him a “cute magician.” I’m not disputing it, but it’s quite forward and presumptuous. He is cute, though, I can admit that.)

The judges all love it and Mel B. was close to socking him over breaking her phone, but the real sticking point for me was how long the trick took. And despite that, there was no drop off. I didn’t want it to end, and I think he’s the class of magicians this season. Consistently great, and it’s reflective of his dedication to the craft.

AcroArmy Stops the Show

AcroArmy was the judges’ darling in the early rounds, the favorite among a plethora of dance teams. And after surviving the judges’ choice, they’re back with the team member who missed the last performance because of work obligations. So they’re going higher than ever before as a family.

My criticism of them has been the lack of a true showstopping move, and while this one starts out as more of the same, they have not one but TWO of those finishers. Just incredible. One girl flips around like seven times without touching the ground, and I actually exclaimed “Wow!” while watching it. And that’s not even the closer. They toss the girl in the air sideways, and she spins like five times before the two guys catch her. You really just need to watch it.

Mel B. drops an “off the chain,” Howie can’t contain his excitement, Howard ponders why such a mind-blowing act doesn’t get more votes and Heidi already feels like she’s paying top dollar to watch them in Vegas. To respond to Howard, it’s those two original moves at the end that separate this performance from the last few, and hopefully what will propel them into the Top 12. 

Kelli Glover Has Big Gloves to Fill

Nerves have been the potential pitfall for Kelli Glover, who was eliminated during Judgment Week a few years back. But it’s not going to be easy to follow Mat Franco and AcroArmy and not see the energy fall a bit. Still, she’s been working on building her confidence and enjoying success.

Her rendition of Beyonce’s “Love on Top” has a particularly Whitney Houston/Jordin Sparks/”Let’s Hear It for the Boy” vibe to it, so in that sense if feels professional. But other than that, it’s hard to stand out from what she had to follow, and I think the decision not to pick a more well-known song was a detriment. When you do Beyonce, you really have to do Beyonce.

Howie urges her to be confident but says he could feel the nerves, while Howard thinks there’s something missing and calls the performance flat. Heidi offers muted praise and calls it courageous for her to pick a Beyonce song, and Mel B. is frustrated because this girl can sing but didn’t bring it this time.

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Wendy Liebman Fills Time

Next up is Howard’s wildcard pick, comedienne Wendy Liebman, who I just haven’t found terribly funny so far. But I still wasn’t surprised to see her snag a wildcard, even predicting as much. She went back to her laundry after being eliminated, which is good because she probably needs more jokes about laundry once she’s done talking about menopause. I think this spot in the show is the perfect placement for her.

She walks out to a sped-up version of “Call Me Maybe,” then thanks Howard and praises the show, thus wasting 15 seconds of the 90 she has. I laughed at her first joke about gaining 100 pounds since Kindergarten, but not much afterwards. Props to the bit about meeting her husband online at the supermarket before he checked her out and bagged her, though. Some of her pauses to wait for laughter are incredibly awkward. 

Howard and Howie give her a standing ovation, which I can only hope is to be nice. Howard calls it a “pleasure” to have brought Wendy back, and he applauds her A-game. He thinks she deserves to be in the competition and urges folks to vote for her. Heidi calls it her type of comedy, which immediately means it’s not that great. Mel B. loves strong, independent and funny women, and she thanks Howard. Howie fourths the sentiment. 

Jumping Into Blue Journey

We’re jumping right into the next act, as is the beauty of comedic pacing. But can Blue Journey succeed where Aerial Animation failed? They have the dance ability and needed to ramp up the creativity of the background gimmick, while Aerial Animation was the opposite.

The chick starts off dancing alone in what appears to be an empty room before interacting with a “Take On Me”-style cartoon guy. I’m thinking it’s basically a rip-off of the A-Ha music video except they dance under water instead of running from a thug with a metal pipe. The background visuals are great, but neither the story nor the dancing hold my interest. I would have rather watched the MTV version.

Heidi calls it a Dali painting come to life and deems it one of her favorites of the night, and Mel praises the captivating creativity and says they just need to stay in the competition. Howard says only one act can win a million dollars and that he hopes they stick around, but he found it both risky and sleepy. Howie lauds them for creating their own product. 

Rock and Roller Cello

Instead of focusing on the grandpa connection, this pair of brothers instead introduces themselves on a more personal level and talks about their differences and their goals. They push electric cello to the limit, and they’ve been a fan favorite so far (it doesn’t hurt that they read this blog, too). 

Emil and Dariel go with the full band again, but this time it doesn’t serve as a distraction. It’s Guns and Roses’ (or Paul McCartney’s, if you prefer) “Live and Let Die,” and the riff is perfectly suited for some rock and roll cello. They also get to mix in a bit of true classical music during the slow solo, and it’s every bit as fantastic as the previous performances. That being said, it’s still just a bit more of the same, and I have no idea what they can do to ratchet it up. It was the great song choice that made this one so good.

Mel B. says they smashed it, and she praises the band. Howie calls it a perfect performance, but he was waiting for Sir Paul to come out on stage. Howard agrees and urges them to maybe bring a singer with them next time to drop some lyrics in. That would be a great change of pace, but they’d have to make sure they were still the focus. 

Heidi enjoyed it, and she brings it back to gramps and wonders why he isn’t performing with them. They point out that the dude is super old and had open heart surgery a few years back, so he can’t really hop up on stage like a spring chicken anymore. Plus, he’s living his dream through them. So cool it, Heidi. 

Smoothini’s Redemption

He was one of the favorites in the audition round, so much so that he skipped Judgment Week entirely. Then he over-thought his quarterfinal performance, and even he was like, what the heck was I doing with that goldfish? So he’s bringing it back to the basics and what makes the Ghetto Houdini tick. 

He takes Nick’s shoelaces and Howie’s ring, then pretends to throw the ring away. He ties the shoelace around the ring, takes a pen, has Heidi and Mel hold the pen, then moves the ring to the pen. Then he moves the ring to his own shoelace. It was a big step up from his last time out on stage, and his banter is hilarious, but it seems uber-pedestrian compared to Mat Franco. 

Heidi says he earned his name, and Mel B. commends him for stepping it up. Howie calls him one of the reasons why tonight is magical and thought the room exploded for him, while Howard enjoyed it but thinks it’s still too small.

The Most Famous Acrobatic Pooch in America

I’ve been urging Christian Stoinev to leave the adorable Scooby out of the act and return to his roots of balancing by one finger in a champagne bottle, but it turns out that Scooby is loving the limelight of the Big Apple too much to bail. So he’s got a new look and some fresh attire, and Christian promises us something we’ve never seen before. 

It starts out with a prerecorded Top Gun montage to “Danger Zone” before Christian does some basic balancing and Scooby comes out in a mini jet fighter. Then Christian does some handstand walking with Scoobs on his feet before the pooch hops back into his plane and Christian makes another little pup appear. Too much dog, too few new tricks. It’s not a good thing when Scooby’s jet fighter is the best thing about the act.

Mel B. didn’t think he did enough balancing, while Heidi loved it like her kids do. Howard thinks Christian got overly confident and forgot that he’s part of the act, too, and Howie directs all his comments to Scooby. Christian points out that the balancing is harder than it looks, particularly staying so incredible straight that the dog is safe, and he hopes America can see that. 

Quintavious Johnson Gets the Pimp Spot

Looks like we’ll be getting at least one more singer into the Top 12, because the little man with the huge voice scored the coveted final performance slot of the night. Quintavious Johnson is every bit as grateful as he is likable, but he knows how good he is, and his soaring confidence has replaced a bit of the humility he showed previously. Then again, the dude is 12 years old. 

Since he’s been on the show, mini DJ Jazzy Jeff has been getting a ton of attention from the ladies. But singing is his focus. so those chickies will have to wait on the curb until he wins himself a million bucks. And he’s thinking of his grandmother during this performance.

Nick Cannon apparently dressed him for his rendition of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” because he’s sporting a shiny gold jacket and bow tie and glittery sneaks to match. It’s spot-on, as usual, but it packs slightly less punch than his “And I Am Telling You…” Still, there’s no chance he’s going home.

Heidi believes his name is as unique as his talent, Mel B. repeats that he’s “just got it,” Howie says he’s golden and Howard says Quintavious just taught America a lesson.

Tossing It to America

And that’s it for the second group of semifinalists, who easily outperformed last week’s crew. Mat Franco, AcroArmy and Quintavious Johnson are a clear step above the rest, while Emil and Dariel are also likely safe. I don’t think Wendy Liebman, Jaycob Curlee, Baila Conmigo or Kelli Glover did enough, meaning it comes down to Christian Stoinev, Blue Journey and Jonah Smith for the final two spots in the Top 12.

Which acts do you think are moving on, and who has reached the end of their journey? Which acts left you wanting more, and who really blew you away? Be sure to join us Wednesday night, when we round out the Top 12 and are treated to a performance by Maroon 5. Because, you know, I haven’t heard Adam Levine on the radio in at least five minutes. See you then!

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

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(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