America’s Got Talent goes live Tuesday night for the first time in season 10, and what better way to celebrate the move to Radio City Music Hall than by going live ourselves here at BuddyTV? So we’re live blogging the first group of 12 quarterfinalists to hit the stage in hopes of nabbing a spot in what appears to be an eventual (and nonsensical) Top 21.
But before we get to the performances, I have a bone to pick with AGT about this whole “process” of determining the Top 36. First of all, it’s going to look a bit different than what we watched play out over the past four weeks, as two advancing acts subsequently dropped out and were replaced. Then we’ve got the four judge wildcards that were only identified in the NBC press release regarding the live shows.
Despite being in the Top 7 of their respective Judge Cuts shows, crossbow master Silvia Silvia and non-dating aerial act Duo Volta are no longer in the competition, absurdly replaced by Alondra Santos (who I though deserved to advance even though Mariachi ain’t winning this thing) and DADitude! (who I ranked 10th in their group).
But here’s the rub. It came down to Duo Volta and Duo Vladimir for a spot in the quarterfinals simply because the judges deemed them too similar to both move on. So when one drops out, shouldn’t the other be the logical replacement? But instead, we get the talented but goofy group of middle-aged, former pro dancer dads? I wish these fill-in acts luck, but there’s no way they’re making it out of the round.
Then there’s the wildcards — ballroom dancers Craig and Micheline, flyboarder Damone Rippy, extreme motocross riders Metal Mulisha and gymnastics group Showproject — who got varying degrees of airtime during the auditions but skipped the Judge Cuts round entirely. So essentially, they all got the equivalent of Golden Buzzers without anyone telling us.
With talented performers like singer Ryan Shaw, magician Aiden Sinclair, rocker Stacey Kay and dancer Aaron Smyth all snubbed, why not let a fan vote determine the wildcards? Viewers are left entirely out of the process until the live shows, so why not give us a chance to right a couple wrongs and determine who we want to see again.
Just my two cents, but I would argue these potentially throwaway acts were added to make the next cuts a bit easier to determine for an apparently un-trustworthy America.
Lineup and Projections
The 12 acts competing for your votes include several fan favorites, easy eliminations and a few TBD’s with something to prove. Piff the Magic Dragon, Samantha Johnson, Siro-A, Paul Zerdin and Drew Lynch are all locks, barring any absolute bombs (this is particularly true for the stuttering stand-up, who needs his set to match his backstory).
Alondra Santos, Vita Radionova and The Gentlemen have their work cut out for them, which leaves four contenders for two slots. Showproject (shirtless Ukrainian National Team gymnasts) and Craig and Micheline (part of a montage) could be great or terrible, so it’s possible none or both of country crooner Benton Blount and boy band Triple Threat end up advancing.
Let’s see how things play out, and please be sure to refresh your page and keep the comments coming! The live blog begins now.
Welcome to Radio City
We kick things off with a quick montage of the first group of performers practicing in full costume around the Big Apple, as onlookers muse that AGT must be back in town. And it’s their home venue, so of course The Rockettes dance to Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” while Nick Cannon introduces the judges and Heidi Klum’s dress with the midriff cutout.
Now let’s kick this pig.
Siro-A Draws the Shortest Straw
The Japanese dancers looking to follow in Kenichi Ebina’s footsteps draw the unfortunate first slot, which is not an enviable position when it comes to live voting. But they’ve made a name for themselves, even if I’ve found their performances to be more prerecorded projections than live dancing.
This time, it’s a rock and roll routine to Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” that involves them interacting with imaginary musical instruments and even flashing appearances by the judges before they move cards to “catch” projected letters.
They get a standing ovation, but while the choreography is impressive, it’s much more about timing than the complexity of the movements. The woman behind the scenes gets the majority of the credit, and while it’s visually stunning and chock-full of impressive energy, they’ve yet to fully win me over. But the judges damn near lose their minds, and it doesn’t seem like going first will hurt them.
Siro-A: Dance Group Stuns with Visual Dance Experience - America's Got Talent 2015
Alondra Santos Gets a Third Chance
This 13-year-old singer focused on her vocals instead of the Mariachi during Judge Cuts, but it wasn’t enough until another spot opened. As I said, I thought she deserved to be here, but she’ll have to blow us away to have a shot here.
She’s wearing a dress with more flowers than a Bachelor rose ceremony and singing solo in Spanish, then it turns into this up-tempo blend of pop music and Disney World Epcot performance with a dozen or so backup dancers in brightly-colored dresses. It’s like Mariachi meets Selena, and I’m not sure what we we’re watching other than the fact that it is energetic and festive. But she’s now given us three different versions of herself, and I think an audience needs a bit more clarity.
Howie is glad they brought her back, Howard applauds her for being more contemporary, Heidi couldn’t take her eyes off Alondra despite everything that was going on and Mel B. loves that she started a cappella before kicking it up a notch.
Vita Radionova Fulfills Her Circus Dreams
She’s a sexy contortionist who is chasing big dreams and hoping her Ukrainian family can come see her someday because being on stage is the poetry of the body and it means everything to her.
I’m always partial to hot bendy people, but as skilled as she is, this one just fails to wow. There aren’t any moves that are spectacular, and the skin-tight sparkly body suit covers up all the skin she showed in earlier rounds.
Howard loves the precision but thinks she’s in trouble, Heidi predicts votes from guys, Mel compliments the outfit but worries she’ll be forgotten and Howie thinks she got lost in the venue.
Triple Threat Takes on America
They’re an unconventional boy band — i.e. they’re all nerds — who met while riding the bench of their high school football team. Their audition was that one where you expect bad things to happen and are then blown away by the talent, but do these normal guys have what it takes to stand out?
They’ve added sexy backup dancers to help fill out the stage for a rendition of Destiny’s Child “Say My Name,” and while I love them, there’s something off about their harmonies, and it’s mostly off key. Additionally, trying to be more mainstream detracts from the charm that made them likable, and they even get X’d by everyone but Heidi. Not sure what happened to them here.
Howard hit his buzzer because it was misguided and “off,” calling it a parody of a boy band. Mel accuses them of butchering one of her favorite songs, and she bashes the harmonies for not being as silky smooth as usual. She also calls the overall appearance a risk that did not pay off.
The Gentlemen vs. the World
The pair of hip-hop dancers who are also kid brothers were the biggest surprise for me, yet here they are, continuing to chase their dream of earth’s domination. They want to be the best in the world, but I’m not sure what they can do here to give themselves a chance.
Their routine to Pitbull and Ne-Yo’s “Time of Our Lives” is just fine, and the break dancing is my favorite part. But the addition of backup dancers is a distraction for me, and they don’t do anything I haven’t seen on this stage before. What’s with everyone adding backup dancers?
Mel loves their cuteness, but she saw a lot of repeated steps and feels they did better last time. Howie gives them the benefit of the doubt by talking about how likable they are, while Howard muses they didn’t do enough to distance themselves from the other dance acts. Heidi, however, praises their “Big Apple swagger,” which just makes me think of pie.
Piff the Magic Dragon Frolics in the Summer Mist
Speaking of expecting one thing and getting another, Piff the Magic Dragon is probably audience favorite number one at this point. The guy in a cheap carnival costume who packs a dry wit and impressive magic to boot is up next, and my expectations are sky high.
The Las Vegas veteran who gave NPH his sandwich snacks on some cereal while an assistant wraps up Mr. Piffles in a gift box before a dramatic “Game of Bones” entrance into a parody called “Dog or No Dog” starring Howie Mandel. There are four boxes hanging over the stage, and Howie picks three of them that get destroyed in various fashions (stomped, baseball bat, into a wood chipper) to reveal there are no pooches inside. Then he pulls Mr. Piffles out of the fourth.
Hmm. Not quite up to par, but I still love the character. It lacked a bit of pizzazz, even if the trick was decent enough. First, it’s the distracting backup dancers, and now Piff has a female sidekick? No, sir. Just stick to yourself and puppies.
Heidi dubs the trick “game of groans,” criticizing him for trying to make his act big enough to fit the new stage. Mel says only half the risk paid off, but she’s interrupted by a delivery man dropping off Chinese food. Howie loved the trick because he had nothing whatsoever to do with it, and Howard doesn’t think it was his strongest because it was light on the comedy.
Benton Blount’s Last Chance
The big-and-burly-yet-soft-spoken stay-at-home dad is chasing his dreams of providing for his family with music, and his loving wife refuses to let him quit. But is this is last chance at success? Or does making it this far mean he’ll no longer have trouble booking gigs? It’s unclear if he’s best suited for bars and small stages, and performing at Radio City should give us a pretty clear indication.
He’s singing an acoustic country version of A Great Big World’s “Say Something,” and I’m torn. It’s pitchy across the board, but you can still see his potential in a performance that garners some goosebumps. The way things are going so far, he’ll probably get another shot. But there are parts that are simply rough.
Howard was worried about Benton on the big stage, fearing orchestration would ruin him, but it didn’t. Heidi appreciates his honesty as a performer, and Mel felt early nerves that he managed to overcome. Howie calls it a moment, saying, “It’s not about hitting the note,” except it is.
Craig and Micheline Step Out of the Montage
They’re best friends who spend their time on the road performing together, and they describe their style as “intense” and “hardcore.” They’ve gotten hurt before, but they have ultimate trust in each other.
It’s half dancing, half flips and spins while lightning bolts flash around the stage and Marilyn Manson’s “Tainted Love” blares in the background. They have a cool moment or two, as well as a few clunky ones, but in all honesty, I’m bored.
Howard is a fan of the sexiness and pure strength, even if it looks clumsy at times, while Mel finds them exciting and is interested to see what America thinks. Heidi talks about him throwing her like a rag doll and her climbing him like a jungle gym, and she doesn’t think they could’ve done it better. Howie is skeptical of them advancing, but unless the remaining acts are all amazing, who knows with this group.
Drew Lynch Gets Introspective
Drew and his amazing girlfriend are the kind of people you want to root for, especially considering his personality upgrade after his devastating accident. The emotions are raw and real, but his material has to match that for him to be successful (though he’s probably fine for another performance regardless).
His set is all about his service dog, and he throws a couple newly-written Mr. Piffles jokes into the mix. It’s not the best I’ve ever heard, and I could take or leave his nervous chuckling at his own jokes, but I find myself laughing out loud on a few occasions.
Howie calls him a triumph in the fact of adversity, Mel believes he doesn’t give himself enough credit, Howard finds him inspirational and compliments his writing, and Heidi thinks he’s hilarious, especially when he laughs at his own jokes.
The Bare-Chested Showproject
They’re four shirtless former Olympians in jeans who eat, sleep and breathe gymnastics, and they’re looking to prove to the world that they can perform every day. Their previous act was on parallel bars, and this one is on three high bars. It’s basically a synchronized-ish Olympic routine to rock music, and it ends with four pseudo-simultaneous dismounts while their pants glow blue.
I don’t know if any of those moves would’ve gotten perfect 10s on the world’s stage, but it works for the audience, especially on this night.
Heidi is wowed, but Mel has to be critical of the sometimes out-of-sync timing. Howie thinks they bring an edge to gymnastics, but he thinks their audition was better. Howard wonders if voters will view this as the Olympics or something they’d want to spend money to see in person.
Paul Zerdin Ditches the Creepster
Paul is a ventriloquist from England who has had a reasonable amount of success there, and his family-friendly act has been a favorite of the judges. Thankfully, he has ditched his creepy-ass baby puppet in favor of the one that got him through his audition.
He argues with the puppet for a bit, tossing out a few decent one-liners before leaving the puppet on stage by himself for some hands-free animatronic ventriloquism fun that wins over the crowd. I still think he could use a bit more edge, but he’s great at what he does.
Heidi garners boos by announcing she prefers things the old-fashioned way with both characters on stage, but Howard dubs him brilliant and the best of the night.
Samantha Johnson Closes Out the Show
This talented young singer who has been pitched a few curve balls in her life coasted through the first two rounds, and her pimp spot placement all but guarantees a semifinal appearance. But she still has to bring the thunder. After her parents split up, she had to drop out of school to help take care of her family, and she brought both mom and dad along for this ride to watch her perform.
She’s singing a rendition of “California Dreamin'” that probably most closely resembles the haunting Sia version, and she absolutely kills it. I generally shy away from singers in this competition, seeing as how I also cover shows like American Idol where that’s all they do, but she might be the best of the night.
Mel calls her an already-made superstar who put on a brilliant show, while Howie says she owned the stage. Howard congratulates her for stepping it up and “having it,” and Heidi squeezes in some more compliments before the episode comes to a rushed conclusion. Whew.
Who Stays and Who Goes?
What happens next seems pretty obvious to me because despite some subpar performances from a couple favorites, the only real surprise was Triple Threat pooping the bed with horrible staging.
The likability of those who slipped-up will supersede the mediocrity of the middle of the pack, and we’ll be seeing Showproject, Benton Blount, Piff the Magic Dragon, Drew Lynch, Siro-A, Paul Zerdin and Samantha Johnson again, as the judges intended, with Alondra likely up for the Insta-vote.
Who were your favorites and who do you think came up short?
And as we head to the first live results show, there is one other thing to get excited about. Season 9 winner Mat Franco is sure to have a new trick up his sleeve as he returns to the stage where he won his first million (payable in a financial annuity over 40 years, or the contestant may choose to receive the present cash value of such annuity).
See you then!
You can watch America’s Got Talent every Tuesday and Wednesday at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)