At this point, what can you say about the 11th season of America’s Got Talent other than it’s all about the singers? I’ve written about it ad nauseam. Esteemed colleague Derek Stauffer has written about it ad nauseam. If other entertainment websites have also been writing about it ad nauseam, you stink and shouldn’t be reading other sites.
But seriously, bequeathing the golden buzzer to Goodfellas-without-the-mobsters Sal Valentinetti seems to be the icing on the cake that AGT is reverting to from its early years, with and despite the return of Simon Cowell. While he’s added a different kind of freshness that is not necessarily better or worse than Howard Stern, we are being overwhelmed by the one type of genre that the franchise was wise to distance itself from.
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It’s a fact that novelty acts have been immensely more successful post AGT, and in the past four seasons, it’s been mostly singers with an unexpected hook (outside of runner-up Emily West, who was every bit deserving of her place in the finale) who have garnered the most attention.
And that brings me back to the walking cliche who advanced straight through to the live shows with his spot-on Sinatra. Is Sal Valentinetti talented? Yes. Is he likable? Possibly. Do we share an alma mater? Indeed. But he used the same shtick to earn himself a butt-load of screen time during season 14 of American Idol, until he was bounced in the group round because he literally can’t sing anything out of his old-timer wheelhouse. And how’d that work for Landau?
I can see how folks unfamiliar with his story would find it refreshing, but I’m biased because he was immediately recognizable to me. So I find the “pizza boy from Long Island” approach disingenuous because he’s an aspiring professional singer who has been at it for some time and who relies on over-the-top stereotypes to distinguish himself.
Anyway, we’ve still got a handful of audition shows left before peeps get judged, so here’s to hoping that a few more standout acts don’t croon. Unless it’s with a puppet.
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It’s variety to kick things off, as the first featured act is husband-and-wife knife-throwing duo Alfredo and Anna Silva. They aim to take something old and make it new, with the goal of earning their own show for their young daughter. It’s pretty standard, until she starts moving around while he tosses blades like they’re in a choreographed action movie sequence. Then he lights the knives on fire and does it all again. I can’t possibly imagine what they could put together to have a shot at winning, but I’m not upset about seeing Anna’s next skimpy outfit. And I reckon Alfredo ain’t so bad on the eyes either.
Elias and Zion are 9-year-old twin boys who look like 9-year-old twin girls, and they hate when Disney World characters mistake them for princesses because of their long hair. They absolutely tear it up on a piano duet, which earns them a standing ovation. They’re adorable in a bizarre sort of way, and with spunky personalities to boot, it’s four yeses.
The confident kid montage kicks off with 8-year-old DJ Livia and her hip-hop dancing siblings, then 12-year-old Parker does his best Billy Elliot impersonation. It caps off with some kid named Zack who does rolla bolla, even incorporating a jump rope. I always find rolla bolla terrifying and underappreciated, but if that dude who did it while swinging from the ceiling couldn’t advance, it doesn’t look great for Zack. Still, so far, so good.
A choir with a full orchestra “Wants to Rule the World” (doesn’t everybody?) and kicks off the vocal portion of our show.
Fourteen-year-old Jayna Brown is a singer who is dealing with a bit of financial turmoil at home, but her mom is still her hero. Her rendition of “Summertime” is off the charts, yet amazingly no one gives her the golden buzzer. If I were recapping American Idol right now, though, I’d say she overdid the runs a bit to show off her range, trying to cram too much into one performance when a touch of subtlety might’ve been more impactful. But luckily, this isn’t American Idol.
In a throwback to David and Diana, SOS and Victoria Petrosyan are masters of the quick change. They design and create all the brightly patterned costumes, and it’s pretty astounding provided they don’t do the exact same thing every time moving forward.
File this in the “What the…?” department, as Philadelphia Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos makes an appearance to show off his magic skills. He has Mel B. pick a card and fold it up before quick-shuffling and cleverly pulling out all the diamonds in order. Simon picks a card, and the magician orders up all the other suits before revealing that Mel’s card from the beginning is the one Simon chose. As a die-hard fan of my birds, I knew it was more than a locker room hobby, but damn, that was impressive. If the NFL stands for “not for long,” then this specialist has his life-after-football career.
Vello Vaher is a 52-year-old Estonian acrobatics teacher who seeks fame as a contortionist hand balancer who jumps from elevated hand-hold to elevated hand-hold with his legs wrapped over his shoulders. He then climbs a rope in the same position before grabbing a metal hook with his mouth and suspending himself in mid-air above the stage.
On a completely unrelated note, am I the only one constantly annoyed by the Cascade commercial where they ask if you have “dish issues”? Can they not just call them “dishues”?
Ronee Martin, 62, caps off a montage of singers that Simon cuts off prematurely to reject, and she’s doing a rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” He puts the kibosh on it early, dubbing it the wrong choice and asking what else she’s got. Then she launches into “Natural Woman” and makes Simon look like a genius. It’s a stunning and complete 180, just awe-inspiring, and he is very proud of himself as he sends her through to the next round.
A tatted-up man in a cape and combat boots known simply as The Baron of the Universe hangs heavy objects from his nose, eyelids and nipples and swings them back and forth. He gets an X from Heidi, but the other judges “get it.” Not me.
If you’ve never heard of comedian Julia Scotti, you’re about to because she’s up next. She’s in her 60s, and it’s probably okay that you’re all questioning her gender because so did she for a long time. She used to perform as Rick Scotti, but after coming out as trans, she took an extended break.
But before she opens up about all that, she has the judges and the audience rolling with laughter. She’s a headliner who began doing comedy in 1980 and has been on Comedy Central and once won Showtime’s “Funniest Person in America” contest for New Jersey (before eventually losing to Ellen DeGeneres), but her inspirational backstory adds new emotion to her seasoned performance and ease on stage. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s an invite we won’t see again but who would otherwise likely last far into the competition.
The final performance of the night goes to 16-year-old singer and ovarian cancer survivor Calysta Bevier, whose backstory has the audience in tears before she even shows off her pipes. She’s here to provide hope and inspiration with Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” so there’s no point in breaking down her perfectly wonderful voice. I’m not quite sure how it stacks up with the competition, but we’ll get to hear her live thanks to Simon bestowing the holy mantle of the golden buzzer upon her.
Yep. That’s four golden buzzers to four singers. Either we’re looking at a musically-friendly Top 10 or the judges have an agenda that will likely fail. Time will tell, but it is true that it’s impossible not to love Ms. Bevier.
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We’re almost an hour into the show before we’re subjected to our first featured rejection, and it comes after a montage of bad dancing acts, courtesy of Robert Drlicka. He used to work in the business world, but his heart was in making people smile, so now he’s a full-time compliment guy. He wheels out his compliment box and tells everyone what he likes about them, and four X’s later, Nick Cannon surmises that people simply don’t like compliments. I half expected this guy to advance as this episode’s absurd act. Instead, it was an utter waste of time.
The majority of rejects come in montage form, before the above-mentioned Ronee Martin and The Baron. They include:
— Three girls who are good singers, just not as a group. They’re essentially the anti-One Direction.
— A young guy who plays the piano and sings, but he’s not adept at doing them simultaneously.
— A female guitarist who shows flashes but can’t pull it together.
— Dudes who make fart noises.
— A woman who plays the washboard.
— A man who drinks tea.
— A guy who extinguishes fire with his breath. So the opposite of a dragon. And as we saw last season, dragons advance.
— A man who makes balloon animals.
— A weird girl who wants to start her routine over.
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Nope, sorry, no absurd advancing acts this time around, and I’m not sure if I’m disappointed by that. Overall, though, it was a stellar night of talent with an emphasis on both quality and quantity.
We finally saw some decent non-singing acts, though at the end of the day, those who shone the brightest did so from their diaphragms (with some help from the backstories). Who were your favorites? Who surprised you? And who do you think has the best chance of making an extended run?
The preview of the next episode promises that the most unique talents will be on display, including a young female contortionist who shoots a bow and arrow with her feet. Now that sounds like a bullseye.
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)