America’s Got Talent returns to Chicago and San Antonio tonight, and things definitely get interesting. The episode offers a number of unusual acts here, ranging from a giant pooping cat puppet to a pair of four and a half foot Native American crunk rappers — the latter of which is actually pretty good.

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Chicago’s Finest

First up is a very sweet dog trainer named Kelsey, here with her tiny dog Bailey. They do a pretty impressive dance routine to “We Go Together” from Grease, and the crowd positively explodes — I have to say, I laughed at loud at the unabashed enthusiasm for a hopping puppy.  It’s a cute, quirky act, though there’s no telling if it has any longevity. She’s followed by a family circus act, a pretty singer and a dance troop who incorporates large flat screen TVs and Shutterstock photos.

Up next is a stunt juggler named David who performs the truly harrowing task of balancing a Molotov cocktail on top of a balloon on top of a stick in his mouth. David’s timing and balance are impeccable, but it’s the imagination of combining Vegas theatrics with improvised street explosives that really make him stand out.

After that comes the Chicago Boyz Acrobatics Team, a south side gymnastics and agility team. The troop combines a demanding regimen of tumbling and flips with a massive jump rope, at one point taking their youngest member and making a human jump rope out of him. With their talent, energy and backstory, they’re a shoe-in for Vegas.

Next up is the 10-year-old DJ/rap combo 2Unique, performing a mash-up of Run D.M.C.’s “Tricky” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.” Though rap covers often don’t pack the same wallop as traditional singing, the duo get a lot of mileage out of their infectious energy. They’re unlikely to win the million dollars, but they’ll have no trouble booking novelty gigs at hipster bars. Other montage acts include more singers and dance schools.

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The New and the Old

My favorite act of the evening, hands down, is a twitchy young singer-songwriter named Sully Dunn. I’m invested in this guy just listening to his endearingly scattered backstage interviews, but when he plays, I’m sold. Sully’s style is a melodic, acerbic brand of folk punk: he beats the hell out of his acoustic guitar and sings about how college is essentially a scam. Howard is violently against it — can’t blame him — but everyone else is thankfully willing to give him a shot.

After that comes a tenor named Brandon James, singing opera quite well. His open homosexuality has been a point of contention with his conservative mother, but it’s not even mentioned when his performance wows the Chicago crowd. The segment draws to a close with a surprisingly entertaining montage of also-rans, striking the right tone of goofiness: a “cat trainer” named Trevor with a giant pooping puppet cat, a wrestling sideshow circus, a terrible wedding DJ comedian and a tiny Mexican samba dancer who somehow gets all the judges onstage with him.

Back in Texas, we have a gruff, bear-like singer named David Fenley, performing a raspy cover of Alex Clare’s “Too Close.” He wows the crowd and even manages to squeeze in a Spice Girls joke, so he’s set. He’s followed by Dancin’ Dylan Wilson, an Indiana country boy who dances in the hip-hop style of Animation, winning over the crowd with his creative, humorous routine.

Up next is a couple of seemingly novelty acts: on one hand, you have “Hunk O’ Mania’s International Men of Steel,” a pack of body-building 300 extras who split the judges along gender lines, but then you have Lil’ Mike and Funny Bone, a pair of 52-inch rapping Native American crunk rappers who share the birth name Jesus — they have all the hallmarks of a gimmick act, but to quote Howard, they deliver a “surprisingly credible” performance.

The last group of the night is the American Hitmen, a hard rock group of Marine Core veterans. The story of their service is given about as much time as their performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” so it’s no surprise when they’re cleared to go to Vegas. Whether they win the million or not, they’ll be playing Midwestern rock festivals for the rest of their lives.

While most of the acts were pretty compelling tonight, I think Sully Dunn is the one I’m most looking forward to revisiting when the competition resumes. He’s definitely a love or hate performer, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can win over Howard when the live shows begin.

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(Image courtesy of NBC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV