The evening begins in San Antonio, TX, with a singer named Travis Pratt. His audition is quite a surprising affair: he is, to speak plainly, a tall, muscular black dude in jeans and a t-shirt, and he sings opera in a beautiful, classical falsetto. His audition culminates in another twist, as he proposes to his girlfriend onstage. That’s a whole lot of big TV stuff to front-load an episode with, and it’s a testament to the talent pool in Texas and New Orleans that tonight’s episode of America’s Got Talent never lets up.

[Videos] America’s Got Talent Premiere Auditions: The One Act to Watch >>>

The Best of Texas

The next notable pair of acts is a quartet of precious young ballroom dancers, ranging in age from nine to 13. First up are a nine and 10-year-old pair, scoring points with the judges by dripping show biz kid cuteness all over the stage, then dancing capably. They’re followed by the girl’s 12-year-old brother and his 13-year-old partner; Howard Stern drags the story of their pubescent romantic history out rather excruciatingly, but the discomfort is dispelled when they launch into their cute and pro-level routine. I have no doubt that all four of these kids are destined for a lucrative residency on your aunt’s Facebook page.

Speaking of cute and shareable, here comes a Mariachi band covering “Low” and “Sexy and I Know It.” The group is called Mariachi Nuevo Estilo A.D.M., and while it’s an entertaining enough routine, I think they have a long way to go if they want to prove there’s more to them than the omnipresent gimmick cover.

After that, we’re on to a couple of danger/weapon acts. First, Pistol-Packin’ Paula comes onstage with her guns blazing — the judges are doubtlessly relieved when she turns out to be an entertaining crazed gunman rather than a violent one. Though she fails to secure passage to Las Vegas, she at least facilitates Nick Cannon’s first ever amusing contribution to the show (sorry Nick) by whipping a stick in half out of his teeth.

She’s followed by a sword swallower with a pretty compelling angle: he puts nine swords in his esophagus and twists, while broadcasting the gag-inducing details to the audience via x-ray. Heidi moves him on to Vegas on a split decision.

The last featured Texan is a 16-year-old magician. He convincingly teleports a dollar bill into a sealed bag of popcorn, and does so in a charmingly friendly, stage-ready manner. If he can build on that success every week, he has the potential to be a real highlight.

Down in New Orleans

The show heads to Louisiana next, where 20-year-old ventriloquist Megan Piphus gets things off to a rousing start with a charming puppet show. She demonstrates enormous range as a singer by performing Whitney Huston and Mozart using a girl puppet and cat puppet, respectively, singing through her teeth and never moving her lips. It’s crazy, it’s silly, it’s also undeniably impressive.

Next is a singer named Jonathan, estranged from his family since coming out as gay. If anyone remembers Mikey from the Saturday morning cartoon Recess, he is literally the 20-year-old version of that character: a sweet, chubby, bashful kid secretly packing the voice of Robert Goulet. He wins the auditorium over unanimously.

Next is a retired teacher named Alexandria the Great, attempting to escape an intimidating combination of handcuffs and chains while underwater. She exhales before entering the pool, then stays underwater for an uncomfortable minute and 36 seconds. It’s a nerve-racking routine, but undoubtedly a triumphant one: she erupts from the water to universal relief and rapturous applause.

Because Alexandria is such a tough act to follow, it seems like a good time to unload J.C. Starbright, a computer programmer who moonlights as a glam singer/songwriter. I’m not all that enthusiastic about the mean-spirited freak shaming component of these shows, so this one is rough for me, especially when Nick Canon comes out to belabor the poor man’s rejection. At least he seems to be a good sport about the oppressive smog of booing and mockery choking his dreams out existence.

To compliment Alexandria the Great’s pool routine, we now have another offsite danger act, in which a smiling, sloth-like man named Sam climbs to the top of a swaying 80-foot pole and does a handstand. Though he’s a little bit moony when standing on the ground, he’s an absolute beast when climbing the pole.

The last performer of the night is a young singer/songwriter named Paul with a troubled past; his mom was a drug addict who left the family and his dad is a recovered alcoholic. He plays a pleasant original called “My Life” that sounds like Jack Johnson by way of contemporary country, and it’s clearly an emotional moment for him. I’ll say it, I’m getting a little choked up — he’s had a hard time, and it’s nice to see nice people do well on this show. Best of luck to him; he has all the makings of a fan favorite.

This was a very good night of auditions; appreciably better, in my opinion, than last week’s fairly predictable mix. I’m acclimating to the new judges pretty well — even Heidi had her moments tonight — and I find myself enthusiastic about what the next round will bring. Even moreso, I’m ready to see what tonight’s acts will do when the live shows begin.

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(Image courtesy of NBC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV