I don’t know about any of you, but I’m ready for audition season to be over. We’ve got more than enough talented acts to choose from at this point, and there’s no sense belaboring the process with two-hour specials and twice weekly episodes — alas, that’s what we’ve got this week. The audition process seems to be wearing on Howie Mandel as well, as he spends the first part of the episode doing who knows what somewhere offscreen.
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The evening begins with Howie MIA in Hollywood, leaving Howard, Mel and Heidi in the classic 2:1 lineup. No effort is made to legitimately explain why Howie’s actually missing, but an overly precious segment is spliced in after the fact in which Howie shows up late and wanders around lost.
The first performer is 14-year-old Olivia Rox, belting out a love song while playing a sparse guitar accompaniment. The segment demonstrates why Mel B is the best judge on the panel: where the other judges tend to veer toward big TV love/hate reactions, Mel is professional enough to temper her praise with an entirely fair critique of Olivia’s phrasing. She makes it through with some helpful advice to boot, and Howie can stay lost, in my opinion.
In that blissful period of Howie’s absence, the joke acts, like a plunger tosser and a terrible rapping male stripper, are given sparse comments and quick exits. The solitude is short-lived, however, as Howie returns for Tummy Talk, a routine in which three guys in suits perform a Stomp-like routine by smacking a hefty Samoan gentleman — Howie falls right back into his habit of dragging things out, insisting that the same treatment be given to Nick Cannon.
Kids, Colors and Coal
A dance crew called Fresh Faces, a pack of children dancing to the somewhat macabre song choice of “Die Young” by Ke$ha and an ice skating troop called Aerial Ice. The next group given the full profile treatment is a combination dance troop and light show, and they don’t really merit it — the concept is intriguing, but the execution is underwhelming.
Up next is the young dance couple of Josh and Danielle. I have to admit, I’m always kind of split between seriously impressed and a bit creeped-out by this type of routine. There’s no arguing with the talent on display here, but I also can’t help but think, there goes two kids who don’t have a childhood — not to mention the weirdness of the costumes and gyration-heavy choreography.
We then have a former Marine and ex-coal miner named Jimmy Rhodes playing a tender acoustic original called “Coal Keeps the Lights On.” It’s a massive hit with the audience, gets the judges on their feet and is primed to be an even bigger hit with the American coal lobby — don’t just settle for one million, Jimmy, they’ve got a fortune to burn on pathos-soaked commercials like this! That said, I would never suggest that he’s pandering — his tears certainly seem genuine — and he really does have a lovely voice.
The next big act is Captain Explosion, recognizable to NBC viewers from the several promos centered around this act. The routine is simple: a white-bearded old man crawls into a box, and the box explodes. I can’t argue with the skill with which the man climbs into the box, nor can I find any fault with the manner in which the box is exploded, but I also can’t for the life of me imagine where Captain Explosion would go from here. His act proves controversial with the judges, as only Howie votes yes.
We then have a kid singer named Chloe Channell, performing Carrie Underwood‘s “All-American Girl.” She avoids falling into the child performer trap of over-playing high notes, singing with the matter-of-fact professionalism of a Broadway performer and earning unanimous passage.
The Good, the Bad and the Prop Comedian
Up next is a moon belly dancer/contortionist named Megan, kicking off the evening’s next montage of crushed dreams with a cult ceremony backstage. The one act I would have liked to see more of here is a pair of puppeteers who portray a giant squirrel eating a person. Alas, none of the other failed acts are particularly memorable.
The most engaging act of the evening for me is a young soul/pop bar band called 212 Green, performing a rocked up version of Adele’s “Rumour Has It.” There’s some definite cheesiness in the group’s choreographed dancing and unnecessary rap breakdown, but the dual lead vocals are absolutely spot-on. Again, they’re in their teens and they’re probably going to make some corny choices along the way, but I’m on board with them.
The final act of the evening, and arguably the most compelling, is an old correctional officer named Al, performing an onslaught of fantastically lame prop-based puns. There’s something decidedly Rupert Pupkin-like about his determination to tell jokes onstage: he very quickly earns X’s from all four judges, but doesn’t stop until he’s riled the crowd into a standing ovation. There are probably some like Howie Mandel for whom the whole thing is an ironic joke, but I find myself genuinely rooting for him to land his goofy puns. I’m glad he has this platform, I hope he had a great time and remembers the evening fondly, and I don’t doubt that I’ll have much of the same sense of humor when I reach his age.
At this point, I have pretty severe audition fatigue. The two-hour run times are killer, the lack of continuity in the acts is frustrating and Howie’s smirking, empathy-free tendency to belabor bad acts is really starting to ware on me. We have more auditions Wednesday night, but what I’m really looking forward to is Radio City Music Hall.
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(Image courtesy of NBC)