Summer’s number one show is back, with the amazing, the terrible and the absolutely absurd ready to hit the stage for your votes on America’s Got Talent. And though the judging panel of Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Mel B. and Heidi Klum returns intact, season 12 comes with one glaring change.

Longtime host Nick Cannon, who year after energetic year was unjustly overlooked in the Emmy conversation, is out after eight years following a dispute with NBC. He has been replaced by mogul Tyra Banks, who certainly has all the experience and gusto you could want. But it remains to be seen if she has what it takes to helm the world’s most popular talent show.

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The judges may garner the most attention, but it’s the host who keeps the show moving efficiently, extracts the most out of the performers through encouragement and comedy, and essentially serves as the glue holding the whole thing together.

I have no doubt that Tyra is capable, but what I fear is that she’ll essentially be doing a Nick Cannon impression. He was such a fan-favorite, with his own unique style, and he was a mainstay. If Tyra can put her own spin on things, she can be successful. But let’s be honest, most impersonators who take the stage don’t exactly last very long. She’s got big sparkly shoes to fill, for sure. 

The Year of the Singer: Part Deux?

After four glorious years of variety acts taking the crown, the return of a noticeably nicer Simon facilitated the so-called “Year of the Singer,” in which vocalists who previously would’ve struggled to advance excelled more so than they had in recent years.

It’s a partially troubling trend, seeing as how the most notable thing a singer has done post-AGT is sing at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Still, Grace VanderWaal won enough viewer hearts to best The Clairvoyants, who now headline the Illusionists Tour of which they used to be mere members. 

But love her or hate her (and I know many of you were not fans), only time will tell if young Grace can prove Simon correct and become the next Taylor Swift. And now a whole new crop of singers, dancers, ventriloquists, comedians, magicians and a bunch of other types of acts I probably didn’t know existed will strive to prove that they’re Vegas’ next big thing. Let’s get started!

The Good

Stand-up comic Preacher Lawson goes bonkers over Tyra while waiting in line, and after they lick each other, he delivers a decently hilarious set about motorcycles, black women and car crashes. Simon throws him for a loop by asking for one more joke, a request for which he’s not entirely prepared. But he recovers nicely and masks any deficiencies in the material by flailing his body around with unbridled energy. 

Yoli Mayor has always struggled with her weight, feeling like the ugly duckling, but singing is her passion. Simon cuts her off just a few bars into “I Put a Spell on You,” telling the 21-year-old to drop the old-fashioned persona and be more contemporary. After a quickie make-over from Tyra to ruffle up her hair and ditch the vintage jewelry, Yoli swallows the lump in her throat and delivers a praise-worthy rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain.”   

Junior and Emily Alabi are a brother-and-sister salsa duo, pushed into dance by their father after Junior starting hanging with a bad crowd and getting in trouble. He changed his tune after an arrest, and now they credit the art form with saving both their lives. It’s salsa on steroids, with frantic spinning and leg kicks to club music, and it’s not my cup of tea. Pitbull would be proud, though, and so are the judges. 

Thirty-three-year-old Will Tsai has been enamored with magic since he was a child, but his dreams were sidetracked by working multiple low-paying jobs to provide for his parents. It was never enough, and he ended up homeless. That experience changed his life, and knowing the lows has him chasing highs.

He does a stirring bit of close-up magic that has to be seen to be believed, moving coins around and changing them into rose petals without even bothering to cover them up. And even though he’s obviously employing a digital screen, he picks up each object after it jumps to a new location. It makes no sense, outside of a possible deal with the devil (demon magic!), and Simon predicts that he’ll go far once he figures out how to up his stage presence in the early part of the routine. 

Merrick Hanna just turned 12, and his dance moves are inspired by his 80-year-old grandma who takes four dance classes a week. I feel the influence because his “tale of the broken robot” absolutely puts me to sleep. The judges go nuts for him, though, with Howie and Simon offering a standing ovation and the latter announcing that he’d put Merrick in a pop video right now. I dunno, maybe it was good that he told a story. But I was bored, and the moves weren’t all that original, even though they were difficult. If you could buzz a 12-year-old, I’d probably have buzzed him.

Demian Aditya has just two minutes to escape arm, leg and neck shackles before he is crushed by 900 pounds of sand, and his wife can barely watch after a recent “catch the nail” trick went awry and ended with a hospital visit. He’s struggling with the neck cuff when the collapse happens, seemingly burying him and prompting a frenzied assistant to smash the container open with a sledgehammer. But said assistant is actually Demian, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. 

It’s one of the few escape acts where I actually bought into the danger, in that a small part of me wondered if something had gone horribly wrong (like when that chick shot her boyfriend in the neck with a flaming arrow last season), and it’s probably my favorite of the night so far.

Darci Lynne Farmer is a shy 12-year-old ventriloquist who uses puppets to come out of her shell, and she’s brought along her friend Petunia the rabbit. And it turns out the dummy bunny has quite a set of pipes on her. It’s shades of Terry Fator, which means you can book her in the finale right now. And Mel B. rewards her talent by slamming down on the golden buzzer and sending the tearful tween straight to the live shows. Even if she doesn’t win, there’s a Sin City duet in her future. 

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The Bad

The Man of Mystery” calls himself the world’s most daring escape artist, and he rocks a fedora and a white eye mask while talking in a Huey, Dewey and Louie-esque voice. He cracks jokes while bumbling — intentionally, I hope — through the setup to his trick. Howie and Tyra lock handcuffs and zip him up in a bag, and it’s four Xs as his “escape” takes an exceedingly long time. Simon and Mel B. change their votes after he emerges dressed in lingerie, but it’s not enough to prevent Howie and Heidi from crushing his dreams.

The mystery man kicks off a montage of rejections that coincides with an all-about-Tyra vignette. Some guy dances crazily and gets the ax, a balloon unicorn goes number two on stage (with Tyra scurrying out with a pooper scooper), and the aging Kazoo Queens get a new supermodel member after their terrible performance.

Another montage of Simon Xs inspired by his adorable son’s desire to press the button includes poorly choreographed dancers and apparently boring aerialists.

The Absurd

Jokgu the piano-playing chicken kicks off the show, with the 2-year-old mother clucker launching into a pecking version of “America the Beautiful.” The previously-booing crowd goes bananas, and AGT has literally gone to the birds. It’s four yeses, and I suspect fowl play.

President Donald J. Trump endures the wrath of the audience and an immediate X from Mel B. before winning over the crowd with a yuge rendition of “Uptown Funk.” Simon dubs the performance memorable despite Mel’s objections, and we’ll be seeing the Donald again. 

Puddles is a sad clown mime hosting a pity party on account of his broken heart. And by that, I mean he is terrifying. Because clowns are not funny. Or sympathetic. No matter how many Bloods vs. Crips teardrops they paint on their faces. He reminds me of a depressed version of the American Horror Story clown, only with an intact jaw. Then the music starts, and he slays Sia’s “Chandelier” with a strong vibrato. He’s got a theatre vibe and sheds real tears at the end, but like, why? Why did this have to happen? Why do I need to see him again? I may dream about this clown.

The Stuff of Nightmares

That’s a wrap for the season premiere, with Darci Lynne emerging as the only obvious contender. I also have high expectations for escape artist Demian Aditya and close-up magician Will Tsai, but no one else strikes me as having the potential for a run to the finals. 

Who were your favorites and which acts surprised you the most? Does the young ventriloquist have what it takes to win it all and does being so similar to Terry Fator help or hurt her? And were you as impressed with the kid robot dancer as the judges were or did you also find it a touch mundane? Most important, can we just be done with clowns, no matter how well they may sing? Isn’t it possible that Puddles is simply lulling us to sleep so he can begin his murderous crime wave? (It’s a question I’d prefer to never have answered.) Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC. Want more news? Like our America’s Got Talent Facebook page.

(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order