The America’s Got Talent quarterfinals are here, and in New York for the first time. There was a “red carpet” countdown special that was absolutely unbearable. If I wanted to see Howard and Sharon treat a blackhead in Howie’s ear, I would reach into a box of MY NIGHTMARES. Nick Cannon grew out his hair a bit, and he’s looking a bit wider. Fatherhood has been good to him, maybe.

We can barely hear Nick over the roar of the crowd at this new New York stage. It’s a good thing we don’t really need to hear anything that happens in the first ten minutes of this show. It’s been a while, so I was pleased by the reminder that the judges can still X contestants. They can still exercise their inordinate amount of power.

The Distinguished Men of Brass are up first, and what a great opener for the live shows. They’re playing “Crazy in Love,” and true to the nature of unnecessary add-ons in the quarter-finals, there are cheerleaders and a hired crowd on the stage’s sides. It was silly, and over-the-top, and I think all the effects took away from the actual performance. Howard and Howie recommend that they tone it down a little bit, maybe doling out some solos, because the sound of big band brass can get tinny over the airwaves. I’m inclined to agree.

Edon is going second, which is not a great spot, but he has gotten a lot of attention early on in this show, so he could be OK just from that. His clip package reveals that he is nervous about a high note in the chorus. I wasn’t particularly wowed by Edon’s audition, but I think his Vegas performance redeemed him, and “Bulletproof” was a good, modern choice for him tonight. His pitch is better than I remember, and though he seems nervous, there’s definitely something there. It was over too soon. The judges applauded him.

Jarrett & Raja love to combine magic with music. Yes, I have noticed that Raja is playing that piano a lot. It’s new, it’s different! These guys were on the standby list, but they are at the top of the list in heart. Jarrett starts singing “Singin’ in the Rain” and gets into a glass shower. He produces some strange dancing girls from under towels, then when the towels come down, one of them is Jarrett and Raja is in the shower! I liked it, but the crowd booed. Howard thinks they’ll be OK this week but they need to bring more pizazz. Sharon thought it was cheesy, and recommended longer towels so we couldn’t see the girls’ feet. Howie liked it. I don’t think the booing was necessary at all, it was just cruel, especially when the audience booed during their post-critique interview with Nick.

Lil Starr thinks about dancing like, all the time. That’s a lot of time to a six-year old. I’m with Howard, though, it still feels dance recital-y. I want to say her rhythm was off, too. Who knows if she’s actually doing anything or just moving her feet a lot? It’s hard to say. I think she’s doing stuff, and they had some pyrotechnics for her this time, which was fun. The audience did not boo her. Howie thinks she will become a big star. Howard has to be honest, he doesn’t think Lil Starr is up to the level of talent this season, he recommends a story. I thought that was good feedback, but it was immediately negated by Nick and Sharon.

Todd Oliver‘s act cracks me up. I like seeing those dogs talk like people! It’s funny! It looks like he’s gotten a better mouthpiece for the dog, Irving, too. He brought a new dog, Lucy, so that was a fun new personality. Sharon loves the idea, but I’m in agreement that some of the material is weak. Irving’s looks can only take him so far. Howard gave some great advice, and I hope he takes it.

The American BMX Stunt Team has a small stage to overcome, but that’s what makes this act exciting. I’m not particularly into BMX tricks, so this wasn’t my personal cup of tea, but I appreciate their ability to keep it tight and build their own stages. The judges liked it, too, but were not gushing.

Nikki Jensen was the only one of the female singers to make it through to this round. She’s Australian, but has her green card. Tonight she’s singing without her guitar, which she considers a risk. She’s singing a slightly up-tempo version of “The Scientist,” and I’m not sure it was the best choice, but it wasn’t the worst. She had some good moments, and some off-putting ones. It could go either way. Howie thought it might not have been electric enough. Howard thought it was nice but not memorable.

The Scott Brothers have an entertaining dance act, and they create their entire routine from scratch. The judges are worried that they won’t stand out enough. I like their act because only two talented people could do it, and it’s so tight! They had some new ideas that I’ve never seen before, and when they were walking around their hats like they were frozen in mid-air? That was nuts! I love it. Sharon applauded their originality, Howie thinks they’ll go through, and Howard thinks they deserve it.

I don’t think I like Nick Cannon’s powder blue satin suit. But he can pull off anything, I suppose. Just like Michael Nejad can PLAY anything! This guy is so cool, and his instruments sound good, too. Sometimes. He has been “working day and night” to make instruments to surprise the judges. He made a flute type of thing out of a baseball bat, and then created a Bollywood type of arrangement of “Moves Like Jagger.” Then he moved to the shovel, which he is much more adept at playing. Making strange objects, like a vacuum cleaner saxophone, is a talent, but I’m not sure it translates. Howard gave him an X right away, Howie X’d him after the vacuum incident, and then Sharon gave him the final blow. “Sometimes a baseball bat is just a baseball bat,” Howard said. It was bad, and it was funny. Howie thinks he should perform at Home Depot.

I think 787 Crew is a good dance crew, but I can’t remember past all their emotion. They have been SO emotional! And SO psyched out about winning and being Puerto Rican that they land on each other’s heads. They make a break-dancing, transformers-like pyramid of dancers, then a formation of air flares. So far no one lands on anyone else’s head. Their hair is dangerously high, though. I think they’ll move through, just because they seem to be early favorites. And they’re quite good. Howie says their previous performances were better, and Howard thinks they’re in trouble.

Shanice & Maurice Hayes love singing, but the judges think Shanice should drop Maurice. Howard argues, however, that Maurice is the heart of the act! You can’t break up the family act. Shanice is pretty great, though. They chose a ballad, which was nice, but I’m getting really restless here in the eleventh hour. Sharon thought it bordered on cheesy, but she loved it. Howie loved it, in spite of Maurice, and Howard suggested a more contemporary song next time. He is giving such great advice!

The final act is novelty painters David Garibaldi & his CMYKs. Can he step up his game for this next level? The audience is already amped up. He’s painting on a white, backlit circle this time. I thought it was a mistake to paint it, then spray the black paint over the whole thing, but then they turned it around and it was an even more stunning portrait! Brilliant. All three judges rose to their feet, and Howard declared them in the top 4 from tonight’s episode. He does not care about rules, this Howard Stern.

Who do you think the Top 4 will be?

(images courtesy of NBC)

Carla Patton

Writer, BuddyTV

Originally from Seattle, Carla recently took a husband and moved to Austin, Texas, where she is finally using her television “problem” to her advantage. It’s sort of like Dexter, but boring and less murdering. Carla’s favorite shows include 30 RockThe Amazing RaceProject RunwayModern Family, anything with murder, and pretty much anything gross and weird (CSIThe BachelorToddlers & Tiaras, etc.). Favorite canceled shows include: Arrested DevelopmentVeronica Mars and Average Joe. In her spare time, Carla leads tours of downtown Austin on a Segway (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!), blogs about Netflix Instant, and visits elementary schools telling children they don’t need math to succeed (just kidding, stay in school, kids).