It's time for the "America's Got Talent" semifinals, and the cuts are more brutal than ever before. More than half of the eleven acts will go home Wednesday night, with only five advancing. As usual, I'll just keep ranking them from worst to first and my Top Five will emerge. Then I'll be ready to rail at my TV screen come results night because you lot have gone and screwed it all up again. Just you wait and see!
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 is 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.
Yoli Mayor (singer) struggles to be comfortable in her own skin, and admits she has used her hair/makeup/accessories as a source of confidence. After a misstep last round, she determined to again strip down her performance to try and win the votes. In today's world, that means singing an Ed Sheeran song. Unfortunately, Yoli's nerves betrayed her again, and rather than feel the power of the song through her own experiences, I just felt bad for all the notes she missed. There are a lot of singers in this competition left. I don't think Yoli is going to be one of them much longer.
DaNell Daymon & Greater Works (gospel choir) keeps having their second-tier vocal lead open their numbers, and her voice just isn't as strong as their true secret weapon. They tackled Aerosmith's "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing," and didn't bring out their secret weapon soloist, instead relying on three other singers who just aren't quite as strong. She’s the star of this choir, and I missed her presence. Vocally as a group, they remain incredibly powerful and they arrangement was fantastic, but I would have liked to see stronger soloists on this one.
Johnny Manuel (singer) wowed the judges with huge diva songs, but took a huge risk on the night with an original song. The song, about flying on blind faith, kind of represented that risk, and it absolutely paid off. There were a few missed notes on the higher register, but Johnny absolutely owned this performance and presented a new song like it was an old r&b standard. Even if Vegas isn't in the cards, or a victory here, I think Johnny is deserving of a second shot at a recording contract. There's a dearth of voices like his in the industry right now.
Evie Clair (singer) continues to perform in honor of her father, battling cancer at home. I still love the ethereal quality of her voice, with its natural breaks and breathy tones. With only five spots in the competition, though, I think all the vocal acts will start cannibalizing one another to push more variety into the finals … or at least I hope they will. I think Evie has a great voice and is truly something special. This performance was very subdued but the quality of her voice was on point from beginning to end.
Sara & Hero
Sara & Hero (dog act) invited Loki back into the act for a very cute beach-themed piece. There were a few mishaps with the dogs, but that's to be expected. Overall, though, she brought a very strong act with the addition of some volleyball and Frisbee stunts along with the existing tricks we've seen before. That Sara keeps incorporating new and more challenging stunts to her routine proves that she's fighting hard to move forward, and it further showcases the diversity of talent she has fostered in these dogs. Even more adorably, the dogs played tug of war with one another throughout the entire judging segment.
Mike Yung (singer) dedicated his performance to his mother, who encouraged him to never give up on his dreams. I felt his song choice was a little odd and may have created a disconnect between his talent and the viewers at home on such a competitive night. He needed to absolutely blow us away to prove he deserved a spot in the finals over so many amazing acts, and I don’t think he did that. Mike is a rare talent and has a great voice, but I think his journey may have just ended.
Eric Jones (magician) is the last magician in the competition. He had the extra nerves of performing in front of his young son, for whom he is trying to win the competition -- to be there more for his son. This time he did a trick involving making a two-dollar bill into four coins and then having them disappear one by one. This one looked a little more straightforward, but it was nevertheless a joy to watch thanks to Eric's likable and calm demeanor throughout the routine. He's low-key, but he's still a talent to watch.
Chase Goehring (singer/songwriter) was a better songwriter than singer this time, which isn't to say that he sounded awful. It was just a very cleverly arranged song, even if the message was fairly standard the-right-guy-was-in-front-of-you-the-whole-time. Chase is something special, and he's putting together a live EP right here on the show that a lot of people would absolutely buy. With all the singers in the competition, I worry he could get overshadowed. Hell, I'm not even sure he'll make my Top Five just because the competition is so fierce and diverse. But he's so deserving of a chance to pursue this dream because the way he writes is so now and so cool.
Billy & Emily England
Billy & Emily England (skating daredevils) is two people skating in a circle, but by god if it isn't mesmerizing and amazing. Every. Single. Time. The stunts got even more dangerous, the tension even more terrifying, and to top it off, he threw her at top speed off of the stage for their finale moment. The breadth of what this pair can do within the confines of such a simple premise never ceases to amaze me. Emily is fearless, and the trust between two two is so palpable it's actually emotional watching them together.
Preacher Lawson (comedian) turned his video package before his live performance into an extension of the show talking about how his appearances thus far have changed his life. It was funny even before he was being judged for being funny -- that's pretty freaking smart. Once we got to the live segment, we got to see him sink his teeth into more bits than just one extended one, and there were a few misfires along the way, but it was overall another excellent performance from a comedian who is definitely having his moment. The confidence shone through, and I love the energy of his delivery. It's a totally unique presentation, making him memorable.
Darci Lynne (ventriloquist/singer) brought out yet another puppet, this time an octogenarian in love with Simon. Darci has a cheeky sense of humor that is beyond her young age and again the combination of jokes and singing just put her into a special class all her own. It blows me away how talented she is at such a young age. The sky is the limit as to what she could do with this gift, but I agree that she will have a major presence in the world of entertainment beyond this show, and could well win the show on her way to superstardom.
Already, I'm pissed that only five acts are going through. I don't even like my choices, because I love Sara & Hero, and I love some of the vocal acts that I didn’t put in my Top Five like Johnny Manuel, Evie Clair, Mike Yung and DaNell Daymon & Greater Works. I don't think there's room in the finals for all of those vocal acts, but I also know America has been pushing singers ahead more than two-to-one over other types of acts, so if that continues, there could be three singers heading to the finals. We'll find out Wednesday night.
"America's Got Talent" continues twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.