The semifinals wrap again this week, and once again, only five acts will advance on "America's Got Talent." Last week's results went a little better than I anticipated, so I'm not as angry at you as I thought I would be. Will singers continue to cannibalize one another? Can all of the kid singers possibly go through? Let's hope not! I'm just going to keep ranking from first to worst and see who emerges as my Top 5, and then we'll see what frustrating choices you all make on Wednesday night.
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 15 years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
Pompeyo Family Dogs
The Pompeyo Family (dog act) were invited back as a judges' wild card choice, but is there room in the finals for two dog acts now that Sara & Hero have already advanced? Unfortunately, this was kind of a disaster from the beginning. Perhaps the concept was too large for the dogs, but their distraction levels were through the roof. The stunts were underwhelming and for the first time it felt like there were too many dogs and not enough control on the stage. I’m not sure the polar theme served any of them well. In comparison to Sara & Hero, this just wasn’t going to cut the muster.
Christian Guardino (singer) shouldn't have made it this far, but he's a kid singer and so of course he got the Dunkin' save in his quarterfinals appearance. But he's outclassed by many of the other singers and even more of the other variety acts. He should be proud he overcame blindness and made it this far. He's got a nice voice, but gave a very boring and dated performance this time around. It's time for him to go.
Merrick Hanna (dancer) lost me for the first time this season with an underwhelming performance to the song, "I am a Robot." I get his robot obsession, but the power of his dancing wasn't in his robot moves -- we've seen those better in more seasoned dancers -- but in the emotional storytelling he brought to the stage. This was a joyful performance and a celebration of his passion, and he deserves to have this moment, but I think it may have hurt his chances of advancing on a night of such stiff competition. In his favor is a back catalog of great performances, and the fact that he’s a kid...it helps more than just singers.
In the Stairwell
In the Stairwell (a cappella group) leaned heavily into their Air Force background, playing on the patriotic heartstrings, and it may help them with the votes. Yet again, a vocal act tackled an Ed Sheeran song, but this one started really rough. Sheeran's vocal styles don't fit the lead vocalist of this act. I'm probably in the minority here, but I just don't really get the appeal of this act. I thought their arrangement was really lacking, and the dancing was even more painful to watch. They harmonize well, but they're just not dynamic enough for me.
Celine Tam (singer) made a very smart choice by tackling "How Far I'll Go" from "Moana." It's a youthful song with a bright energy, so her young voice fits it very well. At 9 years old, her power and range are still surprising each time she hits the stage, and she almost makes me feel bad that I'm so anti-kid singers here. It's not about the kids, it's about ALL of them getting through. This is the best she's sounded since her initial audition, but was that song choice perhaps too safe on a night where she's competing directly with another young girl singer.
Kechi (singer) dedicated her performance to her mother to let her know that she's going to be okay. She opened without musical accompaniment and proved how amazing and singular her voice is. Tonight is absolutely stacked with singers and they might have to take up most of the slots because the best of them seemed to have all fallen here. Kechi missed a few notes along the way, but she still remains a strong vocalist who poured real emotion into that song. Her story will likely help propel her through, but I'm on the fence if she deserves to after this semifinal performance.
Angelica Hale (singer) became a big sister just a couple of weeks ago. It must have invigorated her because she came out and gave her most mature and polished vocal of the season. Simon said on the night that every act seemed to step up their game, and in most cases he was correct. This 10 year old sounded very polished through most of the song, but there were a few parts where she got shrieky and shrill. That said, this was one of the most tonally diverse performances of the entire season. Dangit, these kid singers tonight actually bringing it!
Light Balance (dance troupe) was tailor-made for Las Vegas and I was thrilled to see their technical performance work live for this round. There were some really fun light tricks and clever moves throughout the performance. Though I would have liked to see some more variety and dynamism out of them, there is no denying that this is something special. I think we've seen more innovative light dance crews on "AGT" in the past, but these guys are nevertheless very polished and entertaining. Maybe they could work on being better dancers so they could do more with those lights.
Mandy Harvey (singer) is another singer with a story. While I'm not going to knock her talent, it says something about what works on this show that most of the singers have a larger story behind them. This week, she signed her performance as well as singing it, and gave a haunting vocal performance. She has a polished and unique tone in her voice and poured emotion into that performance, which will make it memorable. Mandy is something special and she should have a shot at a career in her future.
Diavolo (daredevils/dancers) lives and dies by its props and there were a lot of them this week. It was hit or miss at times with some of those props creating repetitive or boring movements, but I will stand by this group passionately every time. The creativity of vision and the unique nature of this act stands head and shoulders above anything else. I found myself getting drawn in emotionally as this piece progressed and mesmerized by what they might do with each new prop as they wheeled it out. This is the kind of act that could really light up a Las Vegas stage show.
Colin Cloud (observationist) did it again, obsessing over Cheese, Rome and Ellen to the point he wrote it on a board before beginning his act, and yet it was Heidi who picked that combination from a random sheet of paper that had one of thousands of tweets on it. Colin isn’t quite a magician, but what he does is astounding, mesmerizing and absolutely mysterious. How on earth does he do these things? I’ve no idea, but I could watch him over and over again doing his thing.
I only put two singers through, but in doing so I skipped In the Stairwell, Kechi and Celine Tam, so America may just make it a singapalooza and put them all through. That said, I feel good about these choices as tonight there was a more clear divide between those acts. Colin Cloud is something really special and bizarre, and I feel the same about Diavolo and Light Balance -- though the latter should really step up their game in the finals if they get there. And on a night filled with singers, Mandy Harvey felt the most like a polished performer ready for a career, while Angelica Hale is the ingenue who defies our expectations each time she opens her mouth.
But will you agree with me? Do all the kids need to go through? Will patriotism push In the Stairwell through, or will America want a second dog act in the finals? We’ll find out as the final acts are selected that will compete for the million-dollar grand prize (and that Vegas show) in next week’s season finale.
"America's Got Talent" continues twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.