When America’s Got Talent last aired an all-new episode, there were overtures that the sixth audition show was also the last. I even wrote a sentence as such in the recap. But I also knew that the live shows didn’t start until Tuesday, July 29, and it was only July 1. So I took out the line, just to be on the safe side.
The reality? How about a three-week hiatus with repeat episodes and then a recap show highlighting the best auditions that you just spent six weeks watching? Yeah, didn’t really need to tune in to that one.
So if it feels like your summer was a bit light on AGT, that’s because it has been.
But here we are, ready to move on from the auditions to the newly-minted Boot Camp round. The format is the same as the Judgement Weeks of yore, only they’ve been relocated from Las Vegas to New York City because all the only out-of-town traveling judge Howard Stern can muster is a limo ride to Newark or an occasional flight to Los Angeles that he has yet to find a way to eliminate from his contract.
Dozens of acts will enter, but only 47 of them will be chosen by the judges to move on to the live shows at the potentially performer-swallowing Radio City Music Hall. The 48th and final contestant(s) will be chosen by America from a host of YouTube auditions. Who will stay, and who will go? Let the games begin.
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Straight to the Front Lines
The show kicks off with the judges surprising the acts who are so good that they will be allowed to skip Boot Camp and head directly to the quarterfinals. They include shadow dancers Blue Journey, child card tossing triplets Dom the Bomb’s Triple Threat, pipe balancer Jonatan, magicians David and Leeman (act name: David Leeman), girls-who-blended-in-with-the-background Hart Dance Team, comedian Dan Naturman, opera sistas Acte II and electro-cellists (and readers of this blog) Emil and Dariel.
Howie Mandel breaks the news to Nick and Rachel of Blue Journey, who had met just four days prior to their audition, that they would not, in fact, be progressing to Judgment Week. It’s the classic fakeout, as they look totally crushed, before he tells them it’s because they’re going directly to the live shows. Howie also uses the child card tossers’ bathroom, munches on a banana and hops on their trampoline before sending them through.
The rest will have one last chance to prove their worth, and I’m glad it appears there is no group that flew all the way here just to be sent packing without another chance on stage. I always hate when they do that, without even giving them a shot. Seems pointless. And mean.
Bunnies and Top Hats
Nick Cannon, clad in a red sport coat over a white turtleneck and white pants, explains that the acts will perform by category, and first up are the magicians. Initially, these performances were supposed to take place in front of live audiences. But that was apparently scrapped after just three attempts.
Mystifier Mike Super and imaginary companion Desmond, who shattered a glass pitcher in Heidi Klum’s hand during “their” audition, kick things off. He bores the judges with his lengthy opening explanation, and it doesn’t pick up, even if the outcome is worth waiting for. He places a piece of chalk between two blank boards, then tells Howie to think of a random name. He has Nick pick a random number (23) before Desmond create a Zodiac calendar of seemingly random numbers on one of the boards. Howie was thinking “Steve,” which the other chalkboard reads, while every row and column of the numbers on Desmond’s board add up to 23, as do the birth months of all the judges’ birthdays. Got all that? It’s a long paragraph to explain a long trick, with about the same amount of showmanship.
Psycho Jack, a creepy version of Howie, locks a hot assistant in a box and then attempts to insert blades to cut her apart. But he has technical problems and can’t get the metal sheets in the slots. They eventually get her apart, but even if he’d pulled it off without a hitch, it’s still a trick we’ve seen a million times. It’s not like anyone believes they are actually sawing anyone in half. They send him home immediately.
Franklin Saint, who bent a spoon in an audition we didn’t see, crushes a plastic bottle with his mind, then closes an empty can of soda, re-opens it and pours out the contents. I don’t know how he did it, but it strikes me as something that has an easy explanation.
Self-proclaimed magic nerd Mat Franco, who started when he was 4 years old and wowed the judges with his story-telling playing card dealings, is taking a risk by continually trying to stretch what a card trick can be. It’s another close-up trick, and he starts by laying the cards out on the table before Mel B. picks the 7 of Hearts. He then lays out a stack of 12 cards that creates a picture of Howie holding said card. He’s two-for-two, but Howie wonders if he can parlay his act to the big stage.
The Dancers Laugh
Backward-hat wearing high school-age tap dancers Sean and Luke do their pseudo-hip-hop version of “New York, New York,” and it’s fine, but it doesn’t wow anyone. Heidi and Mel B. love it, though, while Howard and Howie call it less than memorable.
Solto is one of those weird street performers who dislocates bones and contorts limbs, who I always find more creepy than entertaining. He says he’s going to bring Bruce Lee moves and robotics dance moves to America, even though Kenichi Ebina beat him to it. Heidi is a yes, while Mel B. is a no. As am I. Emphatically.
Dragon House “The Agents” are our talented robot-like dancers of the season, and they do what they do, ending in slow motion. Howard calls it terrific, but the judges wonder if it will be the same thing every week.
John and Andrew, our one straight/one gay Salsa dancers, are out next. They perform similarly to their audition, and it’s good. But Howie correctly asserts that a male-female team doing the same moves might not get the same leeway. But it’s a hook, so they bring the guys out and tell them they’re going through.
Belt It Out, Short Stuff
Because it’s kid singer time. Quintavious Johnson is the only boy in his category, which is chock full of talent, so he really needs to stand out. The 12-year-old wows his fellow contestants with his Mariah Carey impression, praises his hardworking two-job-having mom and then blow the judges away with his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Who’s Loving You.” No way this little dude isn’t going through.
Grace Ann Gregorio is an 11-year-old opera singer who scores the undesirable spot of following Quintavious, and she’s nearly flawless but might lack the punch of her predecessor. Though she does come with an overbearing mother.
Mara Justine, one of the highlights of the audition phase and a BuddyTV One Act to Watch, is exceedingly nervous after watching her competition. She’s clearly got the pipes, but her nerves get the better of her, and her Whitney Houston falls flat. She’s in tears afterwards, and it appears the judges are going to let her down easy. Instead, they put her straight through. If I was Quintavious, I’d be like, what the crap?
Julia Goodwin is the loungiest of the group and might be the best at what she does, but her rendition of “Feelin’ Good” strikes me as the judges’ least favorite. And thus, the child singer who probably had the worst performance is the only one automatically advancing. Hmph.
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Make Me Laugh, Funny Man
The comedians are up next, starting with awkward security guard Darik Santos. His jokes are decently funny, but he actually looks too cool and confident this time around to pull off his nervous and self-deprecating persona.
Wendy Liebman, audition unseen, took time off from comedy to raise a family. The judges chuckle a few times, but her act definitely doesn’t translate to a four-person audience.
Joe Matarese, another highlight from the audition shows, just plain bombs. And when he doesn’t get any laughs, he says the judges are being intentionally hard on him and calls it a show. Then he pines that rejection might be the end of his career. Hopefully not, Joe, because there’s potential there. Still, he’s likely on his way out.
A Waste of Solo Talent
The solo variety acts are up next, and they’re all pretty much a waste of time. Starting with pleather-clad rollerblading dancer Juan Carlos. There’s no way he should even be here, which he backs up with another terrible albeit mustache-less bout of spinning and prancing around. Howie proclaims him his favorite, and Howard shakes his head wishing he could buzz again.
John Narum the Yo-Yo Artist, another unseen audition, does cool yo-yo tricks with acrobatics mixed in, but I don’t know the value of this as an art form. Sure, he does stuff that no one has ever seen before. But that’s because most people have never seen a yo-yo show. He really needs to figure out a way to up the ante should he move on.
Loop Rawlins is a wild west performer who specializes in lassos. He lights the rope on fire, spins it around and hops through it. Three of the judges seem to love him, but I just don’t get it. It’s impressive to me only in that I can’t do it.
Then it’s the battle of the old and the young between strongmen J.D. “The Iceman” Anderson and 93-year-old Mighty Atom, Jr. Both are setting out to prove he is respectively the world’s greatest strongman, though at the end of the day, probably neither is. Hats off to the Atom, though, because this is his family’s legacy.
The old timer uses his teeth to pull a 5,000-pound pickup truck carrying his brother and the judges, but it’s a novelty that will never win.
Anderson, who broke bats and tore license plates with his teeth during the auditions, this time tears phone books, which is good to see they still serve a purpose. He then bends a pair of cast iron skillets and dives through 15 feet of solid ice blocks, slicing the back of his head in the process. I once saw a Bible-thumping religious group called the Power Team who did these same kinds of things, only they ripped up phone books for Jesus.
Chicks to the Stage
The female singers get the call, starting with singer/songwriter Emily West. She used to have a record contract but was dropped by her label, so now she’s restarting things. I’ll stop short of describing her rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Anything You Want (You Got It)” as haunting, but I had goosebumps throughout most of it. After her audition, I said she was no Cami Bradley. Now? She might be better. But I still love Cami.
Carly Jo Jackson and her ukulele usually perform in coffee shops, but Radio City Music Hall is apparently the largest venue a musician can ever play. Her “Somebody I Used to Know” has a Colbie Caillat feel, and it’s borderline worthy of advancing.
Former recluse and depression sufferer Anna Clendening, who was saved when she found music, lost a couple points during her audition because she went with the most over-sung song in reality show history: “Hallelujah.” This time, her nerves and fear of letting people down take hold when the producers call her name, and she runs off in a bundle of tears.
She finally composes herself, though she still can’t hold back the crying. Disorder-ridden himself, Howie again calms her down, and she launches into Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” It’s waaaayyyyyy too fast, and despite her clear-cut chops, it’s not enjoyable.
On a side note, here’s what I wrote about Anna during her audition: “She’s an unknown, but videos of her songs are plastered all over the Internet. I’m not doubting her illness, but I don’t know about this whole ‘just found music’ thing.”
Kelli Glover, a waitress from New Jersey who was cut from AGT during Judgment Week in 2009, is the last performer of the night. She belted it out in the audition round, and I said that it was good, but wouldn’t hack it on a straight singing competition show like American Idol. This time around, she makes the Idol cut with a more restrained performance.
Back to the Barracks
The first day of Boot Camp is in the books, and we saw many of the featured acts from the audition shows. For me, Emily West was the clear-cut winner of the night, and I can see her going far if she can stay flawless. The kid singers, particularly Quintavious Johnson, also impressed, as did magician Mat Franco.
Who was your favorite, and who do you see with a real shot to win it all? Who were you disappointed to see fall flat?
There are also still a number of featured performers we haven’t seen a second time, most notably Golden Buzzer recipient Dustin’s Dojo, adopted singer Jaycob Curley, the Partridge Family-like Willis Clan, stunt team Real Encounter, sexy winter hat-wearing singer Miguel Dakota, Smoothini, boy band Legaci, soldier singer Paul Ieti and a slew of contortionists, dancers and singers. Who are you excited to see again?
Boot Camp continues Wednesday night, with a guest recapper (please be kind to Catherine!), when the acts get whittled down to our top 47 and the YouTube winners are revealed. Then we go live for the first time next week, and the search for a million-dollar act truly begins.
You can watch America’s Got Talent every Tuesday and Wednesday on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)