It's time for Judge Cuts on "America's Got Talent," and it's going to be a bloodbath out there! Eighty acts will need to be trimmed dramatically before we get to the live shows. And so for the next four episodes, 20 acts will enter and only seven will be left standing. It's a brutal round of the competition that sends more than half of the acts we've come to love packing. But hopefully, it leaves us with the best of the best. Chris Hardwick joins the panel for this round so there can be no tie, so he can be the “sixth” judge. To keep things fair, he was even given a golden buzzer he can use to send someone straight through.
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. At this point, the top seven are going through, so I'll just continue sorting from worst to first and we'll see the acts I wanted to go through. Boy, did we disagree this week on some of these acts. The judges put through two acts I didn't even think of as contenders. It's going to be a long Judge Cut round.
Eric Jennifer (comedian) annoyed me, as well as Simon, with his first “make some noise!” We didn't see his first round, but he was annoying and that was apparently his catch phrase. He had a few minor jokes, but if you're going to be a catchphrase comedian with that, you need to be a lot more energetic. Don't give people a chance to breathe and realize you're material is pretty thin.
Dancing Pumpkin Man
Dancing Pumpkin Man (dancer?) revealed that he is quite the Internet sensation, and added a ape to his routine, which he immediately dropped. He also had layers to his costume, but the dancing was just as absurd as ever. It might be amusing in snippets online, but this is not a Vegas act and certainly not a million-dollar “AGT” winner. He reminds me of Will Ferrell.
Canion Shijirbat (video dancer) didn't impress me with his actual dancing the first time he was out, and it went that way again. I appreciate how he incorporates the video screen behind him, but I really need more from him for this to stand out above video dancers we've seen in the past. It was really repetitive from the first time we saw him, and ultimately rather boring.
The Singing Trump
The Singing Trump (impressionist/singer) disappointed me the first time. He was alright as Trump, but it was the singing and dancing that really left me less than impressed. He slowed it down this time, and the weakness of his vocals was even more exposed. It was funny to see him singing boy band songs with secret service dancing behind him, but I'm so over his act. He got a standing ovation from the judges.
The Baker Family
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The Baker Family (bluegrass band) created a charming country and western vibe, but those vocals were just not strong enough. They could do well enough on the amateur circuit, but they're not ready for this. They must have been better their first time out, which we didn't see.
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Maw Kitty (singer/dancer) is in love with Simon like apparently every other older woman who auditions on this show. But seriously, why is she here? Her upper register was a disaster. But she got to kiss Simon at the end of her routine, so she must be happy.
Danylo and Oskar
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Danylo and Oskar (acrobats) were once again impressive in the short snippet we saw, spotlighting Oskar's flexibility but I'm starting to see the limitations in the act. It's impressive, but it's mostly Danylo swinging Oskar around or holding him up. There's not as much artistry to what they're doing as there could be, despite the beach setting this time around. It just left me underwhelmed and looking for something new.
Demian Aditya (escape artist) used the nervous wife trick his first time around to make his stunt seem more dangerous, and she was back again to panic as he was buried alive outside. He put himself down a ten-foot hole tied up with chains and sand being piled on top of him. It is definitely even more dangerous than the first time we saw him, and exactly the kind of act that succeeds on “AGT' and in Vegas. With about 30 seconds left, the camera went out to raise the stakes even higher. The problem is it was the same switcheroo he did the first time around, and he was one of the digging crew. The stakes are higher, but the act was too repetitive, so he lost my support.
Mariachi Nuevo Santader (mariachi band) was a 15-member mariachi choir, essentially. It was certainly an interesting twist on mariachi. We only got a few seconds, but it was enough to know that they sounded strong and confident. Vocally, they were on point and I loved the unique nature of what they presented.
Yosein Chi (balance acrobat) underwhelmed his first time out, so he re-added a dangerous stunt he'd abandoned a decade ago after suffering severe injuries. He was shaky balancing on a wine bottle. I can't decide if this makes him look less confident, or somehow makes the whole thing more exciting. The dangerous stunt was exciting to watch and certainly the most impressive thing we've seen from him yet. But how far can balancing go, really?
Darcy Callus (singer/piano player) didn't blow me away, but maybe that's because he tried to take on Freddie Mercury, and almost no one can manage that. He proved he has the range and the power, but he also sounded young and less seasoned at other times. Nevertheless, the judges gave him a near-standing ovation. That said, is this the kind of act that should win “AGT”? I know anything goes, but even among vocalists, he wasn't the best we've seen just tonight.
Eric Jones (magician) redeemed himself in Simon's eye with some very clever card tricks that saw him changing a card back and even somehow embedding it inside of Simon's buzzer. Real magic makes you start to look for how the magician is doing the trick, and it's especially exciting when you can't figure it out. Eric also has a very laid back delivery in his works, but the cool swagger kind of works with the kinds of tricks he's doing because they're intimate but powerful.
Lera and Nika Tomanova
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Lera and Nika Tomanova (ribbon acrobats) didn't get a full segment in our first look at them from home, but we saw fearlessness and impressive precision in the young twins in their high-flying ribbon act. I don't know what they did their first time around, but that was dangerous enough and impressive enough for me to consider them a contender at this point.
Carlos De Antonis (opera singer) brought a playfulness to his performance, which paired nicely with his powerful vocals. It was the kind of performance you could see in any number of true opera performances, proving that he's more than just the right voice, he's the right kind of performer. On top of that, Carlos is a sweet and humble guy who barely knows what gift he has. How could he be anything but a fan favorite?
Tom London (technology magician) definitely brought it again, with another mix of technology and magic. It was a lot of predictive magic, basically looking like he was reading minds, but it's always mesmerizing from beginning to end. I would have liked him to have found a way to go bigger and be larger than life himself if he wants this to be a Vegas act, because the visual stunts he pulls are absolutely larger than life, but I still absolutely see that potential in what he does.
Harrison Greenbaum (comedian) wasn't out there very long -- or it was snipped -- but he did some funny material about getting struck by lightning over and over again. Harrison works in this field because he is personable and likable. There's a comfort he has on stage that leaves you relaxed, and before you know it you're in the palm of his hand. Good comedians can do that, they pull you into their world, and Harrison has that potential.
Angelica Hale (vocalist) somehow has a season and maturity in her voice at 9-years old that most people two and three times her age don't have. It's shocking every time. She tackled a powerhouse vocal in Alicia Keys' “Girl on Fire,” and absolutely wrangled it. I could hear the youth in her voice more this time, but once again her vocal control and power is absolutely stunning. It shouldn't be possible for that little body to produce that vocal. She still needs to learn how to connect emotionally to her songs to push herself to the next level.Chris Hardwick Golden Buzzer
Sara Carson and Hero
Sara and Hero (dog act) barely eked through the first round, and they really upped their game this time around. The stunts were harder, and yet they kept the storytelling elements that made this dog act something unique. I was with Simon in seeing something in them, and I was touched again by their bond. Hero did some nice flips and even balanced atop Sara's feet in the final stunt, which was impressive and a much needed addition to strengthen their standing.
Just Jerk (dancers) quite literally improved a hundredfold from the first time they were on this stage. I was unimpressed with them the first time and didn't vote for them to continue, but their formations, precision and artistry in this routine was just astounding. You can tell that they poured their hearts and souls into this performance, and wow did they deliver. It was devastatingly beautiful to watch, and one of the best routines I've seen on this or any dance-specific competitoin show.
The Masqueraders (vocalists) blew me away with their seasoned voices and unending drive. Each of them in their 70s, they never gave up on their dreams. And while I would have loved to see their lead really cut loose with more than just the “yeahs,” there's no denying these guys are the real deal. And while they're older and singing older music, they still manage to sound fresh and exciting, and that's everything to do with how they're performing. No tricks, nothing fancy, just passion and infectious enthusiasm for every note.
Interestingly, we agreed on four of the acts (and, in fact, it was my top four acts), but we vastly disagreed elsewhere. The Masqueraders, Just Jerk and Sara & Hero joined Angelica Hale on the live shows, and I couldn't agree more.
But then, the judges switched magicians on me, going with Eric Jones over Tom London. They lost me completely by putting The Singing Trump through, who just failed to entertain me both times he was out. And while I can agree that Demian Aditya's act is exciting and dangerous to watch, both times he used his wife's fear to heighten the tension and then revealed himself as a member of his crew. That tells me he has one trick, he can just do it different ways.
Regardless of how I feel, those are the seven acts moving on. Next week, we'll watch another 20 and probably disagree again.
"America's Got Talent" airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.