Having already visited the coasts, the Southwest and the bayou, America’s Got Talent finally arrives in the Midwest for an audition show in Chicago — sorry, Rocky Mountain states, guess they’re saving you for the spin-off. With tonight’s Voice-dominated schedule relegating AGT to just one hour, we have a high-energy, upbeat evening of one Vegas-ready performer after other. The acts range from circus performers to emotional singers to the single coolest talent in the world: Rube Goldberg machine construction.

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Windy City Highlights

Chicago’s first audition is a “strength team” called Omega Force, whose oldest member is a nerve-racking 75 years old. Setting all jokes about retirement hobbies aside, these guys have the demeanor and showmanship of seasoned professional performers — Howie’s enigmatic critique of the group’s presentation is way off-base. With the other three judges voting hard yeses, Omega Force moves on to Vegas.

The second non-montage routine of the night is a “dance-ish” performance from a gentleman named Kanichi. He doesn’t so much dance the robot as he builds, disassembles and reanimates it: his tightly-controlled movements create the illusion of losing his head, moving in mechanical slow motion and dodging bullets, a la Neo from The Matrix. Unanimous, well-deserved yeses for him.

Next up is a 39-year-old singer named Deanna, whose weight apparently held her back from previously achieving her musical ambitions. She delivers a crowd-pleasing belt-it-out number, and the audience is up on their feet — I completely agree with Mel B’s reservation that her voice is straining, but I can’t argue with the emotion on display or the response she gets.

Midwestern Machinery

After that is a mellow, bordering-on-comatose Rube Goldberg machine architect named Sprice. The guy doesn’t have a performer’s bone in his body, but his talent is a sight to behold: after three days of setting up in the lobby, he unceremoniously lets his handiwork command the audience’s attention, drawing the same oohs and aahs as an acrobat. I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic here, but this is easily my favorite thing I’ve ever seen both on the show and in real life. His act also has the rare potential to improve every week; I don’t know about anyone else, but the promise of increasingly intricate and ambitious Rube Goldberg machines just became my number one most exciting thing this season.

The next act is a spectacular circus-style routine, as a woman named Rong Niu enters on a unicycle roughly four times her height, balances a bowl on her head and kicks another two sets of bowls up to land perfectly inside each other. While it lacks the majesty and grandeur of, say, an awesome Rube Goldberg machine, it’s an impressive move that’s so challenging, it feels like it must somehow be a trick — whether it is or not, she deserves her Vegas pass.

Last up is the American Military Spouse Choir, singing a solid arrangement of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I’m particularly impressed when the group’s featured soloists sing a brief passage of tight harmonies, and I hope there will be more focus on highlighting that skill in future performances — it kind of feels like they’re getting by on sentiment tonight, but they have the potential to be major players with the right material.

One really nice thing about tonight’s episode is its hour-long run time: with less sprawling space to fill, the focus tonight is squarely on top-level acts worth getting excited about. And, oh, am I excited about Sprice — Rube Goldberg machines in new environments with new materials, possibilities increasing every week with the production budget, an interstate chain of dominoes machine stretching from Las Vegas to the Radio City Music Hall in New York — don’t let me down, Sprice, I have big dreams for you!

Also, the other acts were pretty good too.

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(Image courtesy of NBC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV