The semifinals got off to a somewhat lackluster start last week, but there are still a few strong acts to get excited about tonight: Kenichi makes his return, the Chicago Boyz are back and if all goes well the KriStef Brothers will be ready to perform as well. To be fair, though, there are also a few less promising acts on the docket — Marty Brown seriously flubbed his last appearance, and the American Military Spouses Choir has yet to make me feel anything other than guilt at not liking them very much. I’m always ready to be won over, though, so here’s hoping it’s a killer night.

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D’Angelo and Amanda

Man, all the gimmickry surrounding this act really annoys me: the pubescent relationship drama angle, the brother/sister thing, the tired adoption jokes — it’s obnoxious. The talent within the act, however, is inarguable: D’Angelo is a fiercely technical young dancer, and tonight’s “Smooth Criminal” routine takes an impressive turn through wet terrain.

On a side note, I do think that Howard and Howie are starting to genuinely hate each other. While I initially disliked Howie for his snickering tenancy to belabor bad auditions, I’m really starting to hate Howard’s narcissistic tendency to bully everyone else whenever there’s the slightest hint of disagreement. Neither is nearly as cute as they think they are.

Marty Brown

“All I can do is come back like Rocky Balboa did in Rocky Balboa II. He didn’t win in that first movie. But in the second movie he did, he came back.” That’s a strange sentiment for Marty Brown to open with in his backstage tape, but you know what? If the fictional protagonist of Rocky Balboa II is what gets the best out of Brown, then good on him: he’s been training, he’s confident and he does well tonight. Marty sings a sweet rendition of “Bless the Broken Road,” and while it is pretty safe, it easily exceeds the lowered expectations we all had for him.

Chicago Boyz

Creative jump-roping has always been a component of the Chicago Boyz’s act, but it takes center stage tonight: the “Blurred Lines”-scored routine continues to up itself over and over, culminating in a three-person tower of Chicagoans jumping two different ropes. The crowd reaction is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen on America’s Got Talent, and I totally get it: these guys bring a perfect combination of technical precision and raw energy.

Illusionists Leon and Rony

When Howard announced this magic act as his wildcard pick, 75% of you responded to our poll on the matter with “Who?”, and 17% said, “Yeah, didn’t see that coming.” I was certainly somewhere between those two answers, but I have to hand it to the 8% who believed in them, because you saw something I didn’t. Leon, Rony and a number of other magical assistant girls put on one heck of a show tonight, saturating their 90-second routine with as many big payoffs as possible. Howard and Howie kiss afterwards, so I guess that’s another call I botched.

Anna Christine

This precocious kid singer was one of the first acts to make an impression in the audition segment, but she kind of faded from my memory afterwards, if I’m being honest. In a night chock full of singers, however, she absolutely sets the bar high tonight with a gorgeous performance of the Stones’ “Wild Horses.” Forget the whole 11-year-old angle — obviously that’s amazing, but it doesn’t matter — she might be the best singer on this show.

Kenichi Ebina

Kenichi is what excites me about this show. After a fantastic high-concept multimedia performance in the last round, Kenichi dials back the spectacle a bit this time, but steps up his creative game, performing in perfect time with a prerecorded reflection and creating the illusion of doing battle with himself in a mirror. Talent is one thing, but the creative spark in Kenichi is on a whole other level. I love him, and I wish him all the success in the world.

John Wing

Have you ever noticed that men and women are different? John Wing has! I don’t know, I like the guy, but I feel like you can find him in any mid-level comedy club in America. I’ll bet my parents would love him, so that’s probably worth some votes.

Branden James

I think Jonathan Allen’s presence in this competition really hurt Branden James for one reason above all others: compare their voices and their backstories all you want, but Jonathan blew him out of the water with his laugh. Jonathan is a relatable person; Branden is talent, he is ambition, he’s no small measure of desperation, but I don’t really have much reason to care. His performance tonight is grand and operatic, but I don’t feel anything other than his lust to succeed.

The KriStef Brothers

These guys have settled into a solid comedic groove, tonight performing a magic act parody that finds Kris repeating the trick that took him out last time. Something about these two jacked dudes’ utter lack of boundaries, embarrassment or inhibition makes them feel very fresh; I’ll be surprised if they don’t advance to the Top 12.

American Military Spouses Choir

The American Military Spouses Choir, largely pregnant, sings Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” while your dad brings out the old baseball glove for a game of catch and the Gipper wins one and War Horse comes home with your trusty dog. Kudos to Howie for shifting focus away from all that and back onto the singing, which is, as always, good but not exceptional; it’s quite telling when that sentiment earns applause rather than boos from the crowd. I think this group has run its course.

Timber Brown

I get that this guy’s an incredible acrobat, but I still have a hard time seeing him as anything other than a supremely talented stripper. He does some more spinning, and this time falls into a pool a couple times, all while looking very hunky. I don’t have a fraction of his athletic ability; I totally respect how hard he works, but I’m just not connecting with him.

Jimmy Rose

I’m pretty sure this is the end of the line for Jimmy. His voice, which was never really his selling point to begin with, gets lost in a sappy arrangement of Garth Brooks’ “If Tomorrow Never Comes” — he’s a veteran, he has Southern appeal, he loves coal so much that he wrote a song about it, but none of that is enough any more.

This really was a very competitive night of AGT: while a couple acts were revealed to be coasting on their stories, there was plenty of excellence to go around as well. I really do hope Kenichi comes out on top; I don’t think anyone else is exploring the creative potential of their talent nearly as much as he is. The results show will certainly be interesting.

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(Image courtesy of NBC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV