From 18 contestants each night down to just seven acts moving on, guest judge Ken Jeong used his Golden Buzzer wisely in the most brutal round of the competition.
Welcome to the "Judge Cuts" round of "America's Got Talent," where we see how many of those contestants who wowed us during their auditions were just one-trick ponies. 18 will enter, but only seven advance.
With so much pressure on and so much to do, the show welcomed a special fifth judge (no, not me and I'm totally bitter about it). Ken Jeong slid into the center of the dais between the ladies. He was even given a golden buzzer, which could send an act straight through to the live shows... and reduce the available slots to six for the rest of the acts.
It was a brutal night of auditions, and there were some mishaps along the way. Singers singing out of key is one thing, but a stunt act dropping one of its members from a perilous height is genuinely dangerous. But would such a mishap destroy trapeze artist pair Duo Transcend's chances of advancing? And then there was Heidi Klum and Ken Jeong, shaking perilously on stage as a madman on a spinning platform prepared to shoot an arrow at them. Only "AGT!"
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Mel B, Ken Jeong, Heidi Klum and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. For this stage of the competition, it's just about getting through to the next round, so I'll give my vote alongside the judges. Each night, I'm gonna rank them from worst to first to see who emerges as my Top Seven each night.
Oscar & Pam
(dog act) Mel got in trouble, and totally threw off Oscar's rhythm when she buzzed him. This time, though, it sounded more like a dog howling than actually "singing" in key, so I'm kind of with her there. This novelty has run its course.
(singer) Another act with a short edit, Andrew didn't really do anything to stand out even from the original track or other more emotionally connected singers still in the competition.
(stunt act) We never saw this the first time around, but it looks pretty limited as if the act is just about Jack's pain threshold. The guys jumped onto trampolines covered in mousetraps and tasers ... again. So, what was the point?
(animal impressionist) This time, the 11-year-old took us to the jungle for her animal impressions. This act is so weird, because it absolutely makes sense for this show but at the same time it absolutely makes no sense at all. I could see it at a school talent show, but to think of it competing for a million dollars ... I'm just not wrapping my head around it, even though she is quite good at mimicking these various animal sounds.
Celina and Filberto
(dancers) Unfortunately, the addition of hip-hop clothing didn't do enough to change this routine for me to want to see more of it. Filberto did the same hip thrust moves we saw the first time, and Celina just kind of stands there and gyrates. If they had more to offer in their roster of moves, this might be an act worth advancing, but I think they've reached their limits.
Junior New System
(dancers) I appreciated the shirt change by pulling the gold square off, but for a group that made their shtick dancing in high heels, they sure didn't do much of that. Even after they got them on, it was more strutting than any actual challenging dance moves. Look at women in Latin dance styles to see what kinds of things can be done in these shows. The flips are nice, but they could be doing amazing slides and spins and other stunts. And without the heels, I just wasn't blown away by their dancing, it was fairly basic hip-hop style with very few stunts or unique visual presentation. They're just too limited for my taste.
Trinh Ta My
(stunt act) Another short edit for an act we didn't see at all during the audition rounds, but it looked like some pretty cool balancing with objects and fire and other dangerous elements. It would have been nice to see more, but the producers have spoken!
(diabolo) This was an act I really needed to see step it up in this next round to believe in its potential as a headline act. This remains one of the strangest acts to ever make it on to the "AGT" stage, and I just didn't see enough here to make me believe people would pay a ticket price to watch him. It was a bit repetitive from what we saw last time, even the video elements. He's very good at what he does, and as part of a variety show of unique talents like this, it could work. But by himself, it's just not dynamic enough.
Harold and Regan
(dancers) Short-changed again by the edit, this couple appears to have a nice fluidity of movement, and there's a grace to how Regan moves in the air, but the judges pointed out a serious lack in chemistry. That said, it's pointless getting too excited, as there's no way they're advancing after we just saw like five seconds of them.
(comedian) I wish her set had been longer, but Carmen is genuinely funny. It's slice of life humor, but she has a nice dry delivery that really sells the humor in the everyday. Unfortunately, it felt like she was just starting to hit her rhythm when her set ended -- either that or the producers gave her a crappy edit. Either way, it didn't do her any favors.
(musician) She faltered a bit on the higher notes, which didn't come as a huge surprise. Her audition piece had a limited range, and yet she seemed to be hitting most of the fullness of her voice. That said, Christina has a very powerful instrument within her range, and there's nothing wrong with having a lower register as a woman singer. She injected this song from "The Greatest Showman" with heart and passion, and it was wonderful to see her so alive and in her element.
(trapeze) Producers really wanted us to see nearly blind trapeze artist Tyce Nielsen drop his wife Mary Ellen Wolfe-Nielsen, and he did. She fell like 20 feet, prompting gasps from the audience and judges alike while they waited with concern to see if she'd bounce back. And she did. She even asked if she could try it one more time. "It's not 'America's Got Perfection,' this is 'America's Got Talent,' it's okay," Jeong said to excuse the mistake. Regardless of the mishap, the duo elevated their game and really brought a stunning routine to the stage, made even more impressive by Nielson's very limited vision.
Voices of Hope
(singer) There is something very uplifting and emotional about this group of 70 kids coming together. "How Far I'll Go" was a brilliant song choice because it has a youthful energy and wistfulness that these kids could relate to, thus injecting their performance with even more passion. The four soloists were well chosen to capture the narrative, and while it didn't work quite as well when they jockeyed for lines later in the song, the overall performance was very tight and very strong. And then it didn't even matter anymore as they scored Jeong's golden buzzer. And after such a powerhouse performance, it's hard to argue.
(magician) After taking Mel B outside, Kevin put her ring in a box and sent it into the sky attached to a bunch of balloons. But then when they returned inside, the ring was inside of a locked box in a gift bag he'd set on the dais before they even went outside. It was a pretty standard sleight of hand trick, but the presentation was very flashy and clever. Kevin needs to work on the strength of his own performance, but props for the creativity of the trick itself.
Us the Duo
(musicians) Last time, they talked about wanting to start a family. This time, they're pregnant. No pressure to do well on this show, right? I ws getting some serious Alex & Sierra vibes from them when they started performing, but with a little more of a current edge and vibe. Their harmonies continue to be fantastic, and these original songs are very catchy, though I agree their first one was stronger. I really think this pair has something special that could carve out a niche in the modern music scene.
(rapper) This 13-year-old kid writes some very clever lyrics and is very authentic to his own personal experiences. Inspired by "Hamilton," he even admitted Broadway is a dream destination for his particular brand of hip-hop. To keep it fresh, his new song was about what's happened since his last audition. If anything, he was even more confident in his delivery, and his verbal dexterity may have improved as well. It would be a lot of fun to see someone with his youthful perspective and energy bring what he does to Broadway or a bigger stage.
(singer) This opera singer was stopped during his first audition and forced to learn a new song, so he came out with a more powerful showcase number this time. He has an astonishing voice, and while I didn't love the staccato portion of the song as much, I could listen to him sing for hours without a problem. Even if "AGT" doesn't work out, Daniel will wind up on a stage somewhere singing to the back of the room.
(stunt act) Ken Jeong and Heidi Klum were duped into joining Aaron this time for a much-improved second act. Last time, Aaron spent a bit too much time blinding himself to slice a pineapple in half. This time, he shot an arrow through an apple from a spinning platform and snagged Heidi's ring that had been embedded inside the apple with the arrow on the way. This wasn't talent, this was absolutely amazing. And Aaron's silent presentation made it that much cooler.
We already know Voices of Hope are through, thanks to Ken's Golden Buzzer. And with only six of the remaining 17 acts going through, it was a brutal night of cuts. I wanted to see Aaron Crow, Daniel Emmet, Patches, Us the Duo, Kevin Blake and Duo Transcend join them, but apparently I don't get what I want.
The judges agreed about Us the Duo, but also put through dance troupe Junior New System, who just didn't bring enough for me. It was devastating to see Patches cut, but I think he has a bright future ahead of him anyway. And no one was as happy as Mochi to bring diavolo to the next level.
Magician Kevin Blake was booted as well, though the judges appeared to be on the fence about it. Aaron Crow and Duo Transcend were sent through side by side, which was nice to see, as both of them really push the envelope with what they do.
Christina Wells was put through based on her heart and her potential, and it's hard to argue with that. These judges are building a show, and she does have a story.
"America's Got Talent" continues with more "Judge Cuts" next Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.