Reality Stars -- Then and Now

How much crazier can it get? We’ve already seen a mathematical dog and a piano-playing chicken. And that’s just the animals! It’s been a wild season of thrills and chills, amazing vocalists and illusionists, and we’re just getting started. Already, the bar has been raised pretty high for the next round. Let’s see who joins them this fourth week of auditions.

Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last fifteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.

Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. Since it’s just yes or no at this stage, I’m going to rank each act from worst to first each night.

Anthony Penoso

Anthony Penoso (singer-songwriter) is a 58-year-old attorney who decided to use “AGT” to finally fulfill his lifelong dream of being a #1 music artist. He certainly had the confidence going onto the stage, talking about Grammys and the top of the charts and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the setup was enough that you knew it was going to be bad. And it was. It was really bad. Vocally, he had nothing going on and the writing wasn’t much better. It’s a good thing he’s never been disciplined by the Florida bar, so the legal practice is calling.

Judges Scores: N, N, N, N

My Score: N

Men With Pans

Men With Pans (comedians) is a couple of guys who cavort around the stage using pans to cover themselves … and not always successfully. It was more uncomfortable than entertaining and certainly not something I’d want to see more of. And I mean that in every way possible. The panel was split with Simon and Mel agreeing that they didn’t get it. But Mel was given the final say, and they promised something different should they get to come back. She gave a yes for Heidi, but I just can’t. Nevertheless, we’ll see what they come back with. I’m hoping entertainment of some kind. This kind of an act could be shockingly clever and funny, but this wasn’t it.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, N

My Score: N

“Robert DeNiro”

“Robert DeNiro” (impressionist) gave a solid impression of DeNiro, and he stayed in character during banter with the judges, but he started to lose me immediately when the act started. He did the usual impressions (i.e. the easy ones) like Travolta, Nicholson and Walken. The problem is that while the impressions were solid enough, nothing he was saying as them was compelling or funny or even entertaining. It takes more than an impression to make an act out of impressions. The characters have to live and breathe and actually do something.

Judges Scores: Y, N, N, N

My Score: N

Jay Jay Phillips

Jay Jay Phillips (rock-and-roll keyboardist) was certainly one of the most unusual acts of the night. This factory worker actually rocked pretty effectively on the keyboard, but lip-synched the vocals. So keyboardist is essentially all he had to offer and that was enough to get an X from Heidi. I have to agree, though, as there’s just not enough here. He’s using the guitar sound from a keyboard, and what he did just wasn’t a solo act. I’d rather hear that sound from a guitar. It was very weird and there just wasn’t enough there for me to believe this is a million-dollar act. A part of me wonders if he auditioned as a joke and then somehow made it through. Judges Scores: Y, Y, N, Y My Score: N

Just Jerk Crew

Just Jerk Crew (dance troupe) came to “AGT” as their last big shot before beginning their two-year mandatory military service in South Korea. This crew is about mostly popping and locking, creating interesting visuals. I was expecting more of a martial arts influence based on their garb, but it was pretty traditional street dancing. This isn’t a bad thing, because they were very in synch through most of the dance. I’ve seen tighter crews and better formations, and there was excitement lacking for me for some reason. Synchronicity isn’t enough to win and if that’s going to be the main focus of what they do, we need to see some truly groundbreaking visual presentations. That may be one of the best crews of that type on “AGT,” but there have been enough dance shows that we’ve definitely seen better. I didn’t see a strong enough overall performance to be worthy of the prize or a Vegas show.

Judges Score: Y, Y, Y, Y

My Score: N

Celine Tam

Celine Tam (singer) is a nine-year-old vocalist named after one of the biggest singers of all time. Ironically, Celine Dion has become one of her biggest idols and inspirations. Her audition was all about Celine Dion. And while she was overdoing the vibrato a bit -- it was a little karaoke for me -- there is a little voice inside of that little body. She nailed every note and has real potential to grow into something special. I’d really need to hear her sing something beyond Celine to see what kind of a voice she has on her own and what kind of an artist she could be other than a Celine Dion cover artist. But for a nine-year old with that kind of power and control, I give her a cautiously optimistic yes.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, Y

My Score: Y

Bello Nock

Bello Nock (clown daredevil) had a challenge ahead of him as a clown coming on “AGT.” Simon hates them, and the other judges are wary as most clown acts just don’t work in this type of venue. Nock was something different as he incorporated elements of daredevil in the act, perched atop a rocking 37-foot pole with no safety harness. It was certainly thrilling, but is there more to him than just that? I think there was something missing to make it a complete act, but I’d be intrigued to see if he has any other tricks up his sleeves. Apparently, he does, as he was able to lobby Simon to change his vote by offering to get shot out of a cannon over a helicopter.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, Y

My Score: Y

Greater Works

Greater Works (contemporary gospel choir) faced an extra challenge as a choir because they lived across the country, so they had to do most of their practicing online, only coming together shortly before this audition. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the stage didn’t do them any favors, as their vocal prowess was muffled. They had the energy and you could hear that there were some great vocals in there. It was a fun group, and Kenisha Blackman, who sang lead, had a phenomenal voice, but I think they didn’t get a real chance to showcase what they can clearly do very well. A fun, hip gospel choir that has all the potential in the world to go far. I’d love to see them dazzle on a bigger stage.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, Y My Score: Y

Light Balance Dance Group

Light Balance Dance Group (dance troupe) is a Ukrainian group that brings a classic back to the “AGT” stage, the wild visuals of a dance group that uses light creatively to tell their story. It was a very impressive and creative performance, with a few visual tricks along the way. But mostly, it was infectious and it was fun. They used the lights very effectively to create illusions of rapid movement. It was one of the more memorable acts of the season so far, and something that has great potential in future shows to really wow viewers. Out of nowhere, Tyra Banks came from backstage and gave them her golden buzzer so there was no deliberation even necessary by the judging panel.

Judges Scores: Tyra Banks Golden Buzzer

My Score: Y

Evy Claire

Evy Claire (singer) came in with a huge weight on her shoulders, dealing with her father’s diagnosis (Stage 4 colon cancer) over the past year. Her introduction was an emotional one, and you could feel those tears and that passion in her performance. At only 13-years old. She performed a Christina Perri song, and as she got into it you could see why. Her voice had similar breaks and quirks to it, and it was a genuinely beautiful performance. It was a little too on point to the vocal tics of Perri’s original, but the instrument she’s working with has tremendous potential. Right now, her story is bigger than her voice, but with some coaching she could really emerge as a dark horse in this. The talent is there, but it definitely needs some direction.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, Y

My Score: Y

Darcy Callus

Darcy Callus (singer/keyboardist) gave such a polished vocal performance, they used his audition as a backing track for a montage of father moments. We didn’t see the whole act or even the entirety of the judges’ voting, but he was strong enough to earn a yes from me. That was a solid act.

Judges Scores: Y

My Score: Y


Godfathers (acrobatic troupe) was an amazing acrobatic troupe that we didn’t even get to see the entirety of their act. But what we saw was enough to showcase their incredible strength, balance and creativity in moves and holds that saw these four guys climbing all over one another and performing astonishing balancing acts with no other prop than another guy’s body. That’s creativity that I can absolutely get behind. A memorable and genuinely jaw-dropping performance.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, Y

My Score: Y

Tom London

Tom London (magician) incorporated technology into his magic act to create something he hoped was new. He did some absolutely mesmerizing things with numbers that are simply beyond my ability to make any sense of. Random numbers leading to a massive number he predicted before his audition. And then each portion of that number related back to the judges. How did he do it? No idea. And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I was riveted by each moment of his setup and reveal.

Judges Scores: Y, Y, Y, Y

My Score: Y

“America’s Got Talent” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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