The nation’s greatest summer entertainment train keeps on rolling, as the America’s Got Talent auditions return for a second installment. The first week put forth some noteworthy acts, but no one I envision advancing all that far.
There were nice surprises (looking at you, Piff) and emotional backstories, but were there any potential champions? Did any true favorites emerge? I admit that they did not. And that, folks, is why there are, like, seven more audition shows to get through before things really get interesting.
Unlike other reality shows that focus on individual locations, AGT is a mishmash of performances from all over the map. So there’s no way to know if we’re seeing the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Manhattan Center or the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. But it doesn’t matter where they come from. It only matters where they’re going.
It appears there’s a trend this season of mixing the judge introduces into the opening credits, and while I can’t recall if that’s particularly new, it does reduce the filler at the front end of the show. And that means it’s time to get straight to the acts!
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It’s a fast start to the night, with all-girl hip-hop dance group DM Nation kicking things off while the credits are still rolling. The 14 members incorporate some Matrix-style slow-mo and a lot of rapid-fire hand movements. They’re good and certainly going through, but they’d better pull out some sort of unique signature move or gimmick if they want to stick around for the long haul.
It’s four yeses in unison, and we’re off to a rollicking start. Then the background music is Jason Derulo’s “Want to Want Me,” which has been stuck in my head for the past week and a half. Rollicking start indeed.
Wayne Hoffman is a “mentalist” with three firecrackers, two of which are duds. He enlists Howie as his assistant, who mixes up the explosives while Wayne covers his eyes with some metal sunglasses. Then he “surmises” where Howie would have put the real firecracker (even though he couldn’t have known which one was real, because no one ever showed him, or us for that matter. Probably because none of them are real), puts the other two in his mouth and lights them, while the third is safely “detonated” in a plastic container.
The judges love it, but it doesn’t wow me. It’s standard magic and very similar to the trick David and Leeman pulled off last year when they slammed their hands down on the knives with bags over them. There’s just no illusion that he was actually in any danger, so it’s just a cheap parlor trick with a touch of showmanship. Those firecrackers aren’t the only duds on the stage.
Two dudes who go by The Craig Lewis Band and who both claim to have won the talent competition when they first met 10 years ago belt out a soulful version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
After Mel B. gets her busted pants fixed, it’s time for professional regurgitator Stevie Starr. He learned his trade at an orphanage in Scotland, when he used the trick to hide money from the other kids. He swallows four coins marked 1, 2, 3 and 4, then coughs up particular coins at the audience’s request. To get the last coin, he ingests an actual light bulb, then spits up both coin and bulb. He follows it up by eating sugar, drinking water and making just the sugar reappear. I’m not sure if it’s an illusion or if he’s really swallowing these things, but it’s almost a shame that of all the successful acts so far, this guy has the best shot of advancing far into the competition.
Benjamin Yonattan is a 14-year-old, almost completely blind Billy Elliot who wins over the audience with his emotional backstory and contemporary dance routine to OneRepublic’s “I Lived.” He was adopted from Guatemala when he was 4, and two years ago, he started losing his eyesight. He now has 4-degree vision, which basically means he sees life through a straw, and everything else is black. He’s an absolute inspiration and an amazing dancer, and the fact that he can do what he does is astounding. That being said, however far he makes it will be enough to honor his resilience.
After a pair of acts you’ll read about below, 87-year-old spitfire Shirley Claire saunters out on stage, escorted by Nick. At 17, she became a showgirl during the Hollywood heyday, and she was spoiled with a life of glamour at a young age. She’s been married four times, three that ended in death. (“Death is easier than divorce because it’s final.”) She’s top heavy for her age, if you know what I mean, and she’s definitely had some work done, with nary a smoothed-out wrinkle in sight. When Howard asks her about the role men have played in her life, she responds with, “Well, I didn’t exactly fall off the turnip truck.” She’s a sassy old lady with some witty one-liners, and she sings well enough. But let’s be real.
Time for a montage! The Treadmill Dance Group (exactly what it sounds like) wows the judges, as do the acrobatic-on-skates dance group Honor Roll.
Then Xakary the Magician saws Heidi in half in an absolutely pedestrian bit of magic, but the judges are amazed. Let’s be honest, any time Heidi gets to stand in full head-to-toe view in all her epic hotness, the guy is going through. Year after year, I remain in love with her. And if you watch one video, pick this one, just to admire her. You don’t even need the volume turned on.
Alicia Michilli is a singer who makes her living as a hostess, and she’s the black sheep of the family because she’s the only one without a quality job. Her problem, though, is that she hates being the center of attention. This is the next step in her dream, and her rendition of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” is a revelation. Chalk this girl up as the first performer of the night that you need to remember and keep your eye on. You can remember the regurgitator, too, but I don’t know what he could swallow to top Ms. Michilli.
Derek Hughes is a daddy magician who is looking to follow in Mat Franco’s footsteps and get off the road by nailing down a stable job headlining a show in Vegas. He starts out terrible, but it’s all part of the act. Then he explodes into funny one-liners and a card trick that ends with him “pulling (his) deck out of (his) pants and then Howard’s card from his crescent-moon butt crack. He’s hilarious, confident (it’s tough to purposefully bomb for that long without “cracking,” tee hee), aggressive and another act to watch.
Jalen and Olga are the dancers of Freckled Sky, and they’re debuting a brand new act — in the pimp spot — imagined by a guy who emigrated from the Ukraine with a dream to be the architect of that which he cannot do himself. He is not a dancer or actor, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a genius. I’ll say this. It’s not the first time we’ve seen dancers interacting with a digital background, but it’s one of the most spectacular.
The imagery and effects are brilliant, the dancers are outstandingly skilled and the water falling from the sky adds an additional element that gives you goosebumps. Truly awe-inspiring, and Howard slams down on the Golden Buzzer and sends them straight through to the live shows. I can be hard on the acts, I know, but when one earns complete praise, I’m happy to give it.
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Ronnie the Dancer claims to be popular in Vancouver and describes his stage presence as being like a tornado. He’s been dancing at clubs for decades, and he claims his signature move is the splits. He’s basically the roller skating guy from last season, just without the roller skates. Only the judges put Juan Carlos through, so I guess those skates make the difference. He does wow the crowd by closing with a two-finger push-up, and then Nick treats the world to a dance duet with Ronnie.
Preceding the former Mrs. Shirley Claire and playing up on Nick’s singledom are a rather large pole dancer and a group of half naked chick dancers who do more gyrating than anything else.
A montage of success can only be countered by a collection of failures, and this one involves a bunch of acts that Howie loves and everyone else hates. They include a Papa Shango dancer chick, girls on Segways, a guy who plays guitar with his tongue and a giant monster puppet that decapitates a guy with a puppet on top of his real head.
It all caps off with Youngblood, who promises something we’ve never seen before. He then drinks milk up his nose and squirts it out his eyehole. It nearly makes Howard sick, yet somehow Youngblood gets yeses from Mel B. and Howie. Thankfully, Heidi and Howard are the sensible ones. And sadly, it’s not even something I’ve never seen before.
A Triple Threat
Our second set of auditions is now in the books, and for the better part of 90 minutes, I had the article headlined “Quality Acts with No Chance to Win.” But then Alicia Michilli, Derek Hughes and Freckled Sky came along to save the day.
All three have the skill, the novelty and the ingenuity to make it far in the competition, and while guys like Stevie Starr have a gimmick that can lead to surprises, I can’t imagine any of the acts we’ve seen in the first two shows coming close to this trio.
But that’s why we play the games, because championships aren’t won on paper. There’s a lot of Talent left for America to Got, and it’s a marathon journey to the finish line. But that being said, were you as amazed as I was? Do you see these acts as legitimate contenders? Who else tickled your fancy, and was there anyone you couldn’t believe was put through?
The bar has been set fairly high. Let’s see who else can jump.
You can watch America’s Got Talent every Tuesday at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)