With the audition round of America’s Got Talent‘s 10th anniversary season in the books, it’s time for the revamped Judge Cuts portion of the competition. It replaces (and is superior to, I think) Judgment Week, which had to be renamed because this process will last several of those.
Judges Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, Mel B. and Heidi Klum have narrowed down the advancing acts to their Top 80, and four shows of 20 performances each with seven acts moving on will pare down the group to 28. Those acts will join stuttering comedian Drew Lynch, contemporary dance duo Freckled Sky, gospel singer Sharon Irving and 11-year-old opera singer Arielle Baril — the Golden Buzzer recipients — on the stage at Radio City Music Hall for the live shows.
That’s 32, and I’m told there will be 36 quarterfinalists instead of the usual 48, so I’m assuming each judge will get one wildcard pick to add to the bunch. But time will tell how the format shakes out because some of the things I’ve read don’t seem to add up.
There will also be four special guests on the panel for Judge Cuts, the first of whom is the esteemed Neil Patrick Harris (the others are Michael Buble, Marlon Wayans and Piers Morgan), who have also been awarded one Golden Buzzer each.
After the crew cleans up NPH’s premature confetilation, it’s time to get to the show. And since we don’t start the separate rankings until the live shows, I’m going to present the acts in countdown version from worst to first, and then we can see if the judges agree.
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20. Samantha Hess
Ahh, it’s time for the unceremonious return of professional hugger Samantha Hess, and really, there wasn’t another act that made it through the auditions and was more deserving of a spot in the Top 80? Howard asks how in the hell the other judges didn’t buzz the first time around, and Neil gets to be the guinea pig before the other three cross over to his point of view. Next.
19. Kung-Fu Master Qi Feilong
Kung-Fu Master Qi Feilong, possibly the only advancing act that could make me appreciate the cuddler, invites NPH and Mel B. on stage before creating fire using just his energy, and whatever he has mashed up inside the newspaper. You know what, put him last. At least hugs are comforting. This is just aggravating.
18. Keith Klein
This poor kid, who is riddled with nerves and who we haven’t seen before, sounds just like Frank Sinatra. But while his voice is soothing, so is his demeanor. And that lack of spark and pizzazz is code for boring.
Vibez does that contortion dancing that I’m still not convinced actually entertains anyone, but the judges seem to like him.
16 and 15. The Los Angeles Children’s Orchestra, and Elin and Noah
These two are part of a cute-but-probably-not-moving-on kid montage, with the kid dancers going pure ’80s for a high-haired hip-hop dance to “Whoomp There It Is,” followed by the orchestra, which does what orchestras do.
14. Paul Ponce
Juggler Paul Ponce, again competing against his arrow-shooting parents, has traded in the hat tossing for a soccer ball. He juggles better than a professional footballer, bouncing it off his head as he hops off the stage, interacts with the judges and then climbs back up the stairs. The ball never touches the ground, but he still gets an X from Howard.
13. Michael John
Michael John is a 26-year-old who grew up balancing a shot at professional baseball with magic, and he shocked everyone by choosing to pursue the latter. His trick was decent last time, but now he has amateur magician NPH to impress. He has Howard and Mel B. initial each side of the coin, then makes it appear inside a closed soda can. I said he needed to work on his showmanship, and he’s still way too quiet and monotone. His tricks are solid, but I don’t think his good looks will be enough to get him through, especially after Howard hits his buzzer.
12. Nick and Eddie
Cruise ship-style singers Nick and Eddie sound great and always remind me of a peppy version of The Love Boat, but they get buzzed by Howie for reminding him of being on a cruise ship. That’s kinda the point, brah.
11 and 10. Mari and Kiri, and X-Treme Tricking and Tumbling
This energetic and strongman dancer duo, who we also haven’t seen before, pulls off a solid albeit little-shown routine, coming as part of a montage. It also includes acrobat team X-Treme Tricking and Tumbling, which energizes the crowd with tricks and tumbles.
9. Duo Ignite
These two do a crazy acrobatic routine, spinning on flaming ropes in the sky.
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8. Chapkis Dance Company
The Chapkis Dance Company is made up of 28 dancers ranging in age from 14 to 35, and their routine is pretty spot-on with tons of energy and quick, abrupt and intricately choreographed moves. Four judges love it, but Howard characterizes it as “too busy.” I see both sides, but I lean towards America’s Judge because they didn’t stand out in any particular fashion over the other great dance groups AGT has seen over the years. It was a quality performance, but it wasn’t unique.
7. Silvia Silvia
Once again, Paul Ponce is followed by crossbow-toting mom Silvia Silvia, who pops a balloon with a champagne bottle balancing on top of it that is being held in her husband’s mouth. Then an intricately-aimed setup of eight crossbows fires consecutively and ends with an arrow piercing an apple on Silvia Silvia’s head. The judges are all impressed by a granny with a bow.
6. Alondra Santos
The kid montage culminates with 13-year-old Mariachi princess Alondra Santos and her giant fluffy pink dress. She can really belt it out; she showcases the vocals more than she did last time, but at the end of the day, Mariachi ain’t winning this thing. She’s definitely good enough for the Top 7 of this show, though.
5. 3 Shades of Blue
Rock group 3 Shades of Blue was the standout band from the audition round, and the three brothers and a bestie have dropped out of school to chase their dreams. I’m not sure if it’s an original song, but either way, I’m not familiar, and yet, I don’t mind. (Update: It is Twenty One Pilots’ “Barely Local.”) These guys continue to make an impression, and Howard commends them on quitting college.
4. Samantha Johnson
Singing waitress Samantha Johnson scores the final performance of the night, and her stirring rendition of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” is goosebump-inducing and gets the crowd on its collective feet (even if she’s overdoing it with the runs a teensy bit). NPH is particularly hard on singers because there are so many other shows that cater to them, so it takes something different and amazing to impress him. And he was blown away.
3. Myq Kaplan
Comedian Myq Kaplan tells funny jokes about dating and philosophy, and he’s the first comic to make Heidi Klum LOL.
2. Freelusion Dance Company
I dubbed D.J. Smart and his video mapping Freelusion Dance Company contenders if they can stay innovative, and they kick the show off by dancing in a projected bubble during an Adam and Eve-inspired routine that involves a third guy playing the role of the tempter as the main dancers try to ward off evil and sin. It’s a fantastic start, and it’s going to take a lot to bump them out of one of those seven spots.
1. Piff the Magic Dragon
Audition revelation Piff the Magic Dragon is up next, and he’s brought his tiny pooch along for the ride. People ask him if it’s his pet dragon, but no, it’s a dog in a dragon costume. Heidi again joins him on stage, and he makes her card appear inside a can of dog food. It’s basically the same trick Michael did, only hilarious and entertaining. He caps it off by making and eating a sandwich, and NPH slams down on the Golden Buzzer to send him straight through to Radio City. Piff thanks him by handing over the rest of his sammy.
The five judges battle over their Top 6 (since Piff is already through), and finally, they’re ready to reveal the picks.
X-treme Tricking and Tumbling and The Los Angeles Children’s Orchestra are out first, and they’re both headed home.
Chapkis Dance Company is the first act through to the live shows.
Myq Kaplan is moving on, while Michael John and Keith Klein are out.
Freelusion Dance Company will be performing live, but it’s the end of the line for Duo Ignite and Mari and Kiri.
Elin and Noah, 3 Shades of Blue and Vibez are out next, with the rock band advancing.
Paul Ponce and Silvia Silvia learn their fates together, and only the mom is headed to Radio City.
That leaves Samantha Johnson, Nick and Eddie, and Alondra Santos for the final spot, and it’s not cruise ship crooning or Mariachi. The pimp spot, as usual, wins out, again reinforcing why “save the best for last” is a common phrase.
One Down, Three to Go
For the most part, I think the judges got it right. I had Alondra Santos ahead of the Chapkis Dance Company, as I tended to agree with Howard that the number was too busy and didn’t stand out enough from other groups in the past. But as I said, there’s no way Mariachi is winning.
I was also a fan of Duo Ignite and their ropes of fire, but I trust there will be equally-talented aerialists still to come. Who did you like? Were you disappointed by any act that didn’t make it through? And what do you think of the new judgment format, with a set number performing over several weeks instead of rapid-fire results in two nights?
The extreme acts return next time, and as I’ve been saying all season, it will be intriguing to see how they blend together with the mainstream. I’m also interested in looking back after Judge Cuts are over to see who may have been featured in the audition round that did not advance to the Top 80. I bet there’s a sleeper or two in there that we’ll miss.
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)