We’re halfway through the brand-new Judge Cuts round on America’s Got Talent‘s 10th anniversary season, a format that I find a welcome change from the usual rapid-fire Judgment Week. And thankfully so far, the panel has gotten it mostly right.
With multifaceted entertainer extraordinaire and Nick Cannon look-alike Marlon Wayans joining the crew, let’s hope that trend continues. The White Chicks star is the guest of Howie Mandel, who promises that Heidi Klum will snuggle, though Marlon would prefer Mel B. The Spice Girl agrees to a little cuddle, but only if she can be the big spoon.
The Wayans brother apparently attends the same fashion school as Nick, as he’s rocking some sort of bizarre half-shirt cape. And as he’s introduced, the audience members think to themselves, Hey! It’s the guy from New Girl and Happy Endings!
So who is joining the 18 acts that have already advanced to the live shows at Radio City Music Hall? Here are my rankings of the 20 acts to hit the stage, and then we’ll see if the judges agree.
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20. Brittany Allen
The young singer delivers a nerve-ridden, off-key rendition of Alex Clare’s “Too Close” and leaves in tears.
19. Paul Blair
He’s a professional hula-hooper whose audition we didn’t see, and he earns X’s from all the judges and gets booed to boot. Heidi is a bit overly harsh when she says the act stinks, because he did advance this far. C’mon, it was better than the off-key girl! (Though her ceiling is probably higher.)
18. Dana Daniels
The magician who performs with his pet parakeet has Howie write his initials on a $20 bill. He puts the bill in an envelope and then has the bird lay an egg, and inside the egg is the autographed money.
It’s a birthday party trick, and it’s so obvious that the money was never inside the egg, but rather the result of sleight of hand when he cracked it open. It’s still fun, but if you’re going to wow me, you can’t let me figure it out so easily. #NPHfacepalm.
17. Evoke Tap Movement
The dance crews are all bunched together, with the members of this group coming in at the bottom. They tap dance, jump around and utterly fail to stand out.
16. Pretty Big
The tutu-and-tights-wearing full-figured dance crew won over the crowd and judges with their fierce moves and confidence during the initial audition, and that earns them an exemption from the above-mentioned dance crew montage.
It’s more of the same, this time to “Bang Bang,” and the judges criticize them for not doing enough. Mel B. will fight for them because of the inspirational message, but Howie is right that they have to be judged based on talent and not size. Their tearful retort is that people just don’t understand plus-size dancers.
15. Randy Roberts
He is a show tune-belting drag queen who makes a dramatic entrance by rising up through the stage before singing “The Lady is a Tramp.”
14. The Squad
This group, whose two lead dancers — one with a long mane of whipping hair — admitted during their audition that they don’t really like each other, wow the judges with their fast movements and acrobatic jumps. And their flippy guy who fell during rehearsal, which made him question his ability to jump and flip off walls, nails the move on stage. Mel B. also promises to fight for them, but they seem likely to fade into the rest.
13. Johnny Shelton
This country crooner who lost his son, Preston, to cancer on the boy’s fifth birthday is a classic tale of talent meets emotional backstory, but there comes a point when the artist has to establish himself as a singularity.
His rendition of Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” is touching and gets the crowd on its feet, and the judges praise him for his emotive ability. But Mel B. garners boos for her critique of his guitar playing, voice and pitch issues, and unfortunately, I agree with the lone dissenter.
12. Mountain Faith Band
It’s the return of the father-kids-best friends blue-grass group whose members all work in papa’s tire shop. The daughter sings and plays violin, while the boys take care of the banjo, bass and guitars for an odd country hoedown version of The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”
Look, they’re fine, if this your cup of tea. But it’s not mine. The judges all agree that the act is talented and entertaining, but it’s a toss-up whether that’s enough with this genre. If you like this kind of thing, though, I’m fine with them being higher in your rankings.
11. Animation Crew
These nerdy Asian guys who grew up together dancing on the street to a boom box are trying to capitalize on Kenichi Ebina’s style of dancing, but in group form. Their “I’ll Be There”-gone-haywire routine certainly has its share of fans in the crowd and on the judging panel, but for me, it’s just not on par with the season 8 champion.
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10. Honor Roll Skate Crew
They’re a bunch of guys who dance and flip around on old-school four-wheeled skates, and I wish we’d gotten to see a bit more of their act. It doesn’t bode well for a group to be montaged with only a portion of the routine making it on air.
9. Oleksiy Moglynyy
The strange-but-talented hand balancer who performs with his headless mannequin returns, and he correctly surmises that audiences find his general concept to be weird. This time, it’s Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and the guy is just an incredible and graceful athlete, even if his shtick is a head(less)-scratcher. The judges don’t quite know what to think, but they feel that the doll detracts from his overall abilities.
8. and 7. Child Samurai and Child Dancer
An 11-year-old female martial artist who brandishes a sword and flips around the stage like she’s in The Matrix and a young ballerina/acrobat seem like they do a kick-ass job, but they’re grouped together in quick-cut montage form without even being named in what seems unfair compared to some other acts that received more screen time. What do I do if they make it through, as at least one deserves to?
6. Vita Radionova
She is a sexy and captivating contortionist and hand balancer from the Ukraine who gets Marlon to perk right up. These types of acts are always half awe-inspiring and half creepy, but when you’re watching a hottie with a killer body (and that’s a gender neutral statement), it gets much more entertaining. Normally, I’d think she wouldn’t stand a chance. But compared to some of these acts, she’s a near lock.
5. Triple Threat
The nerdy singing trio, whose members started performing together on the bench of their high school football team, kicks off the show. During their audition, they fell into the “I didn’t expect that sound to come out of those guys” category, but how will they fare when we know what to expect?
They aim to be the boy band that America’s Got Talent has been looking for, and their rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Problem” backs up that possibility. They’re likable and you want to root for them, but Howard Stern worries that their lack of looks will leave them lacking compared to the other singers. I kept waiting for more acts to surpass them, but it just never happened.
4. Paul Zerdin
He’s actually pretty well known as far as British ventriloquists go, and he had one of the more memorable auditions. This time, he performs with a creepy won’t-go-to-sleep baby puppet. It’s cute and ends with the child peeing on him, but it’s a family act that doesn’t really appeal to me. The talent, though, is undeniable. That puppet, however, is terrifying. Howard calls him a cartoon come to life, and Marlon Wayans slams down on his golden buzzer and sends Paul straight through to Radio City.
3. Benton Blount
Greenville’s own, the stay-at-home dad and aspiring singer/songwriter simply refuses to give up on his dream, and he performs to make his young son proud. His pimp-spot rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is a revelation.
It’s haunting, emotional and goosebump-inducing, and he’s undeniably moving on (even though I admit I stray away from the singers when there’s so many other reality shows that cater to them). He also might get swallowed up by the stage at Radio City, as his act might be suited to smaller venues. Time will tell.
2. Oz Pearlman
The mentalist amazed in his audition by writing down the details of Mel B’s unspoken back-in-the-day vacation with Ginger Spice, and his follow-up trick aims to get into the minds of the guys. He has Howard flip through a book with the names of 60 famous women and randomly pick one (Oprah Winfrey), and has Howie do the same with a book of 60 handsome male movie stars (Tom Cruise).
He tells Howie to think of a movie the actor is in, then jots down Tom Cruise Top Gun on a piece of cardboard before pulling paper and scissors out of his pocket and cutting a silhouette of Oprah. Looks like Marlon was a bit hasty with that buzzer.
1. Stacey Kay
She’s the powerful frontwoman (pictured above) of an eight-person band, and she flat-out rocks. I can’t believe we haven’t seen more of this act, and they don’t get enough airtime in this episode either. Additionally, their video isn’t posted on the AGT YouTube channel (at least as of this writing), along with the samurai kid and the ballerina, so basically you’ll never know.
The first group to learn their fates consists of Oz Pearlman, Honor Roll Skate Crew and Evoke Tap Movement, and this one is easy enough. I wonder if the mentalist saw it coming?
He is joined by Vita Radionova, who bests Oleksiy Mogylnyy and birdman magician Dana Daniels.
Next out is Stacey Kay, the kid ballerina and Mountain Faith Band, with the family jug band advancing. WTF, AGT? Travesty. I can’t possibly see any way Stacey Kay doesn’t advance. That band was the best of the night. This recap is now written under protest.
Pretty Big, the 11-year-old samurai and Triple Threat are up, and it’s the boy band for the win. I agree Triple Threat should have made it, but what are the judges even basing these decisions on?
Animation Crew advances, meaning it’s the end of the line for The Squad and Randy Roberts.
Last out are singers Brittney Allen, Johnny Shelton and Benton Blount, with the latter obviously taking the final spot.
And so Animation Crew and Blue Mountain Band bump out my top performer and probably the little karate star that Marlon Wayans called the best thing he’s ever seen. Does that seem right? Am I overvaluing Stacey Kay? Was the group not phenomenal?
That wraps up another round of Judge Cuts, with one more group to go before the wildcards are named and the quarterfinals begin on the big stage in New York City. Did you agree with the judges’ decisions, or do your rankings skew closer to mine? Which acts do you think have the potential to advance the furthest, and who will be one and done?
Tune in next time when original judge Piers Morgan rejoins the panel for the final group to hit the stage and chase their dreams on America’s favorite talent show.
You can watch America’s Got Talent every Tuesday at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)