This is it! The final round of Judge Cuts on "America's Got Talent" brutally slashed 20 acts down to just seven. The acts were more varied than ever this week, with a lot of youth among the competitors. But can they bring talent to match their innate cuteness? This week's bonus judge was Seal, who brings a level of experience as a performer in the field of music no one on the panel can match. He should be paying particular attention to the singers with his special Golden Buzzer.
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.
Edna and Mia Moore (counting dog) didn't even get shown, but the act is pretty limited and we've seen it once, so we're probably good.
Lost Legends (dance troupe) got a short edit, but it was enough to see what looked like amateur hour at a Reneissance Faire with really bad sword play and little else to offer. It's no wonder we didn't even see these guys in their first audition.
Veronica Gonzalez (foot puppeteer) was a mess the first time around, and I didn't get why she even made it through. It was more of the same ridiculousness this time, only finally the judges seemed to have clearer heads and could see how this is now a million-dollar act.
In The Stairwell
In the Stairwell (a cappella singers) tackled *NSYNC, but their lead vocalist couldn't hold a candle to Justin Timberlake, which weakened the overall performance for me. The backing vocals sounded a little messy on top of it, making this even weaker than their last performance, which was a little dull as Howie said. Most of the judges really enjoyed it, though.
Nick Uhas (scientist) was a lot of fun the first time, and he did offer some interesting science tricks, but he got a bad edit this time around during a montage about how crabby Simon was. Simon was very short with him and we didn't see much of his act, but this time around he didn't seem to have the same type of charisma that you need if you're going to be the next Bill Nye.
Maria Popazova (contortionist) did her act inside a giant plastic hamster ball and it was crazy and uncomfortable to watch. The problem is that it didn't look nearly as dangerous as the first time she performed, nor as exciting. There was something missing. A thrill act with no thrills isn't going to cut it.
The Honeybee-z Plus
The Honeybee-z Plus (dance troupe) didn't really get shown their first time around and got a weird edit this time around, but it looks like they're more fun than breathtakingly talented. I'm not going to be paying money to see them perform.
Maxim Popazov (balancing act) climbed his chairs as he did last time on top of a small desk, and even managed to move the tower of chairs from atop it. The problem is that once you get this far with one of these acts, they're largely the same thing over and over again. So it's impressive once, but that's about it.
Will Tsai (magician) had a more bizarre act this time, with his eye changing and a fish appearing from a cube of ice, but it was not as strong as his first time around. Whereas we were dazzled the first time around, it did seem like he faltered a lot with this second performance. I don't know how he did what he did, but there were a lot of times you could tell he was obscuring something in his hand. Perhaps it was too slow and there wasn't enough misdirection.
Elena and Sasha
Elena and Sasha (daredevils) are one of the weirdest couples on the show, but they know how to bring the thrills. Elena climbed a pole Sasha was balancing on his head and then shot a balloon with a bow using her feet. The act itself is very odd, but Elena is very goofy and entertaining when she talks. But she balanced on Sasha's head last time, and while she upped that ante with the bow this time, it's still just variations on the same thing, isn't it?
German Cornejo Dance Company (Latin dance troupe) got a very short edit, but it looked like more of what they brought the first time. This is a talented group of dancers who bring a quickness to all of the Latin styles that is dynamic, but at times lacks sharpness. I'm not sure it showcased enough range to be worthy of winning the show from the first time, and the short edit tells me the show agrees this time.
Britt Saasen (singer) showed a lot of potential in the last round, which we only got to see tonight, We only got a glimpse of her voice this time as she tackled Fleetwood Mac, and she sounded great on it. Apparently, her nerves got the best of her both auditions, with Seal giving her advice to work on her confidence. The problem is the judges thought it wasn't memorable enough, and it as a fairly generically good vocal.
DaNell Daymon & Greater Works (choir) offered up a new pair of lead singers to start the piece, and they just weren't as strong as the original lead. Thankfully, she came out a little later and raised the roof again. She is truly a voice to be reckoned with hiding in an unassuming woman in a choir. This is a great choir that knows how to bring a sense of energy with a massive group. That woman is their secret weapon is they suffer without her.
Merrick Hanna (dancer) went full robot again for a more upbeat performance, but once again I was struck by his ability to tell a story and tap into the lyric of the songs he's choosing. He's a very engaging performer who has so much potential, but I did see a lot of repetition in the moves he did offer, kind of shining a spotlight on his youth and how much more he can grow as a dancer and creator of imagery with his body movements.
Artyon and Paige
Artyon and Paige (dancers) at eight- and nine-years old explained that they needed to win “AGT” to pay for Paige's extravagent wedding plans. They were again adorable, with Artyon winning over everyone for the “passion” he displayed on his face. The lifts and moves were genuinely solid for this age group, with them even doing the classic “Dirty Dancing lift. Both are talented and acrobatic, and very watchable. This was far and away better than the first time they performed.
Sirqus Alfon (comedic performance) entertained us with a piece that saw them lying down and mimicking acrobatics their first time around. This time, they recorded the judges and audience for 30 seconds performing certain movements to then create a musical video piece of those moments controlled by drums. It was one of the most unique acts we've ever seen on the show, entertaining and completely different than their first time. That tells me these guys have range and the potential to really create a fun variety show.
Kechi (singer) has suffered more than most at her age as the only survivor of a plane crash that killed 60 of her classmates and left her severely burned. But pain feeds art, and you can feel all of it in the depth of her voice and the quality of her tone. Her pitch was spotless once again, and she impressed even more this second time around. Her story is obviously a big part of her success on the show, but even without the story she has a really impressive voice.
Johnny Manuel (singer) chose an odd song for his second audition with Stevie Wonder's “Lately.” One of his idols, but not someone you want to be compared to, and I thought Johnny let his nerves get to him a bit and oversang this one. It was a powerful performance, but it lacked a certain passion or emotion. He's definitely got it as far as vocal ability, but I wanted to see him connect more with the lyric and tell that story. Simon smartly pushed him back into Whitney Houston and it was night and day. That's the vocalist Johnny is, and Simon was smart to remind him. The shift impressed Seal enough to give him a golden buzzer.
Seal Golden Buzzer
Henry Richardson (magician) is a 15-year-old magician who revealed how he hides his cards at school. The trick he displayed was absolutely mesmerizing, and I have no idea how he did what he did. Even better, Henry is very likable, which helps him sell the magic he's offering. Even better, the trick was very good.
Pompeyo Family Dogs
Pompeyo Family Dogs (dog trainers) brought one of the most impressive dog acts I've ever seen on this show. The precision and control that all three members of the family -- including the young daughter -- had with all those dogs was just phenomenal. The stunts were fun and clever, with some unique ones thrown in along the way, and even a high jump to wrap it up. The family that trains together may just get to the live shows together.
In the Stairwell, Pompeyo Family Dogs, Danell Daymon & Greater Works, Artyon and Paige, Merrick Hanna, Kechi
Well, the judges and I were closer to being on the same page, though I'm not sure what they're seeing in the a cappella group In the Stairwell to put them through to the live shows. We agreed fully on Pompeyo Family Dogs, Kechi and both youthful dancers: Merick Hanna and Artyo Paige.
As for gospel choir Danell Daymon & Greater Works, they hit my eighth position because I saw potential in youthful magician Henry Richardson. I also clearly enjoyed Sirqus Alfon more than the judges, but I'll argue all day that theirs is a more entertaining act than In the Stairwell.
But it doesn't matter, because that's it. The Judge Cuts are over and the live shows kick off next week.
“America's Got Talent” expands to twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.