When it comes to America’s Got Talent, I’m a softy. I like seeing nice, talented people do well, and don’t really enjoy cringing at crazy acts like, say, a delusional singing mime. In that sense, I’m having a rough time getting into this sprawling, feature-length New York/Hollywood episode, as its first few successes fail to register and its parades of failure drag on interminably. Thankfully, the show delivers a few highs worth waiting for, but there is a great deal of rough before we get to the diamonds.

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A Rough Start

The action returns to New York tonight, opening with a dancing kid routine called the Struck Boyz. With apologies to the group’s passionate pack of mothers, I really kind of hate this — their 10-year-old Jersey Shore shtick falls flat, and their pledge to spend their million dollars on Axe and hair gel doesn’t help. The routine itself is middling, boasting little in the way of technical merit and frequently breaking synchronicity. The judges’ praise is pretty measured, as they highlight neutral attributes like commitment and fun rather than talent, but it’s a bunch of kids dancing hip-hop, so whatever, they pass.

Next is a hand balancing act called KriStef, so named for its two-man team of step-brothers Kristopher and Steffon. Their routine is … well … pretty erotic. They talk it up as a circus family routine, but it’s much closer to a male strip show — tough to say whether that helps or hurts their respectability. Needless to say, they’re a big hit with the ladies, and the gymnastic component is even strong enough to win over the gentlemen.

And then there’s the singing mime. Having bombed in America, she apparently played to over 100 people who didn’t actively boo her in Europe and is now back in the States to try and elevate our culture of Philistines. Enough pretense: she’s a bad mime and a bad singer and that’s all there is to be said about it.

Getting Better

The evening finally picks up with Hammerstep, a darkly dressed Irish/hip-hop dance troop. The routine is uncompromisingly technical, but contemporary enough to keep the attention of a mainstream audience. Between their arresting visuals and artful athleticism, they’re the dance troop that I’m most looking forward to seeing more of.

One montage of compelling performers later — really could have used more of these guys and less of the mime — we have the six and nine-year old music duo of Aaralyn and Izzy. Though I can’t really defend their musical abilities, it’s one of the most entertaining acts of the night: the nine-year-old boy plays drums, and the six-year-old girl screams like a black metal banshee. There’s no question that this novelty act will be short-lived, but they wrangle a smile from me.

Back on the non-Satanic end of the spectrum, we have the Virginia State University Gospel Choir. The group distinguishes itself with spirited, synchronized choreography, but the real hero of the song is a soloist named Bernard.

Hollywood Nights

The show then migrates to Hollywood, leading off underwhelmingly with a sweet-natured oddball gum sculptor. I find myself increasingly at odds with Howie Mandel, who argues tonight that nobody in America wants to hear an original song — between that and the idiotic anarchy “A”-stamped varsity jacket that he wore throughout the first half of the show, I think we probably frequent different bars. It’s pretty satisfying then to watch him eat his words when teenagers Brandon and Savannah come along, performing a thoroughly polished original rock number.

Next up is a dry 26-year-old comedian named Taylor, filling the heretofore untapped niche of duvet comedy. His set is just a little shaky — I imagine that having to introduce oneself and chat a bit before launching into a pre-planned routine is one of the worst ways to start a stand-up set — but he delivers quite a few laughs and demonstrates a great deal of potential. I get the sense that he’s in the process of finding his voice and could grow to be successful in the alt-comedy world.

As we begin closing in on the two-hour mark, we’re treated to yet another failure montage initiated by Jacob, a professional party stunt man who crams a scorpion into his mouth, tries to blow bubbles and gets stung on the lip. It’s finally turned around by Nathan, an affable singing escape artist who divides the judges.

The last act of the evening is an international singing group called Forte, notable for the fact that they met on the internet a few weeks before the audition. Hailing from New York, Porto Rico and South Korea, the trio dresses casually but sings like Il Divo: their Agnus Dei is transcendent, and the Struck Boyz look even more out of place than before.

This was a thoroughly uneven evening of talent, but at least the highs were high: Taylor’s brand of humor was right up my ally, Hammerstep could be great all season and the VSU Gospel Choir will ensure that the season never gets monotonous. I’m rapidly running out of patience with the sprawling, waste-of-time act segments, but I remain optimistic about these performers when the live shows kick in.

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(Image courtesy of NBC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV