We've finally made it to the live shows, with the first 12 acts hitting the stage in front of literally millions of people. The stakes couldn't be higher, and there are no second chances. Perhaps more importantly, for the first time on the season the power shifts to the viewers. The judges can spout their opinion, but 100 percent of the decision on who advances rests in the hands of America. Don't worry, though, that won't stop me from spouting my opinion right alongside my fellow judges.
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.
The Singing Trump (comedian/singer/dancer) is decent as the President, but his act has always frustrated and annoyed me in the previous rounds. And yet, the judges kept pushing him through. The stairs were too long and he spent most of the performance chasing the beat and the songs, coming in late with his lyrics. Once again, he was a disappointment every time he was dancing and singing, but his Trump impression is at least solid. Still, can we be done with him yet?
Yoli Mayor (singer) fell into the same trap of most of the singers tonight, by picking a disappointing song that didn't do her any favors vocally, especially in the opening bars. She went from someone who had the potential to be something really special vocally to someone who has a strong voice but didn't really bring anything distinct to her performance.
Artyon & Paige
Artyon & Paige (dancers) are ten- and eight-years old and got through a long and complicated dance routine in tribute to "Footloose." If this were a show about talented kids, they'd be amazing. In a show where age is no limit, they just aren't quite there yet to win the million dollars. Artyon is older and a little stronger as a performer. Paige needs to work on her faces -- horrified jaw agape is not a good look -- but there's no denying that these youngsters are incredibly talented for their age. They're just not quite at the caliber of this show just yet, and this was the first time I could see that in the performance.
In the Stairwell
In the Stairwell (a cappella group) didn't make my personal cut for the live shows, but the judges put them through. Tackling a song from fun, this was the strongest I've seen them yet, but I've still seen a cappell groups far superior. They didn't even bother to try and hit Nate Ruess' highest note on "Some Nights." Like Christian, they did a pandering final note with excessive runs, but like Christian they put on a solid vocal. But I wanted to see more dynamism and exciting creativity from them in their performance. Maybe I've seen too many singing shows, like "The Sing Off," where acts like this really push the envelope.
Christian Guardino (singer) came in with the extra weight of being Howie's Golden Buzzer selection. I wasn't a fan of the funhouse mirror intro, but there's no denying this kid has a powerful voice and impeccable control of his instrument. His lower register wasn't quite as strong, but Christian didn't falter throughout the piece showing an impressive confidence for someone so young on a huge stage like this. He did hit what I used to call the "Idol" power note to close out the piece, which used to happen all the time on "American Idol." It's both pandering and annoying, but it was still a great performance.
Puddles Pity Party
Puddles Pity Party (singing clown) lost me a little by tackling Lorde's "Royals." It's tone and presentation didn't really sit with his voice in the beginning. I loved the opening video and love the sad clown part of his schtick, so I think he lost something by not walking out on stage with his suitcase. The success of his act is the sad clown who erupts into song out of nowhere, and we missed the sad clown part of him on that stage until after he sang. I think song choice and things out of his control hurt Puddles this week, but he's still a unique and special act.
Bello Nock (daredevil) was one of my picks to advance here, but the judges didn't put him through. So Simon probably read my article and reconsidered. The judges agreed to give him a second chance as a Wild Card, and the Slim Jim hair is back! With less time to prepare, Bello decided on the Wheel of Death, a very dangerous stunt. While the double wheel started a little repetitive and dull as he stayed on the inside of the wheel, the excitement ratcheted up dramatically when he made his way to the outside. Bello keeps things light, pretending to be sick at one point and mugging for the camera, he managed to perform with the music and gave us a genuinely thrilling and exciting act.
Billy & Emily England (roller skating daredevils) spin around on roller skates doing very dangerous combined stunts. It gets a little repetitive, but it's always thrilling and terrifying to watch. On paper, this act should be stupid, but instead it's absolutely watchable and so exciting. They were beautifully in synch with the music and threw in a few more death-defying stunts like raising the platform they were spinning on. Emily mixed in a few twists while they were spinning that were very cool. This has Vegas written all over it; maybe not as a solo act but as part of a daredevil troupe that just scares the crap out of the audience.
Just Jerk (dance troupe) won me over with this routine, showing more precision and complex formations than we've seen yet. They also used their props well, with particularly impressive coordination with their red fans. I really enjoyed how varied the performance was as it progressed, and respect the hard work Just Jerk put into improving. This was the most in synch we've yet seen them, and the most musical. With what they presented here, I could see Just Jerk putting on a creative and dynamic Vegas act with enough variety to keep audiences engaged for two hours or more.
Angelica Hale (singer) is the nine-year old with the voice of someone four times her age. She has the sweetest little speaking voice, but when she opens her mouth to sing, it's like a full-grown woman most of the time. She was Chris Hardwick's Golden Buzzer in the Judge Cuts round. She started in a range a little lower than her voice could comfortable go, but quickly started to rise into her natural register. She missed her first big, high note, but nailed it the next time. It's a big stage and a live show, and perhaps nerves got to her the littlest bit. Still, Angelica is incredibly talented and commanded that song through most of its run. She needs to work on her stage presence, spending most of the performance rocking back and forth in the center of the stage. But the range and power of that voice were absolutely stunning. When she matures, she's going to be even more amazing.
Preacher Lawson (comedian) was the only comic to make it through, but he was also the most polished. His energy was even higher this week than we've seen him in the past. As a physical comedian, he throws everything into his performances and that's a huge part of why they work. I thought the cell phone material was the weakest, but he sold it by jumping around and mimicking 'The Price Is Right.' This guy is ready for his Comedy Central special today. He channels some of the manic energy of Eddie Murphy or Robin Williams, and even has hilarious random asides throughout a structured set. He's incredibly talented and easily one of the best comedians to come through the show.
Darci Lynne (ventriloquist/singer) earned Mel B's Golden Buzzer for a very impressive vocal ventriloquist performance in the first round of the competition. She introduced a new puppet to the show, Oscar, who admitted he'd fallen in love with Mel B. I loved that this time we got to see a little banter between Darci and Oscar before she had Oscar break into a soul song for his love. Darci is great with the puppet, and her reactions to him are genuinely entertaining and funny. She's a great ventriloquist act, but then on top of that she can sing powerful songs as the puppets, and it's truly something special. This is unique and amazing and so very memorable. She's amazing.
Only seven acts make it through to the semifinal round, which means saying goodbye to five of them. If I was the only one voting, I'd be cutting The Singing Trump, Yoli Mayor, Artion & Paige, In the Stairwell and Christian Guardino. That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see In the Stairwell ride the wave of military pride into the next round, sending one of my semi-finalists packing -- probably Puddles who was admittedly a little disappointing this time out. We'll find out Wednesday night when your voting results are revealed.
"America's Got Talent" continues twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.