After the brutal Judge Cuts round of "America's Got Talent," the Quarterfinals are far friendlier to the contestants as seven of twelve advance each week.
This round kicked off with a night of memorable and powerful performances, including the heartbreaking family band We Three, the death-defying Lord Nil, 14-year-old rap phenom Flau'jae, comedian Vicki Barbolak and the indescribable Courtney Hadwin.
At only 14-years old, Courtney channels music like almost no musician before her going back until we hit one of her idols, Janis Joplin. And while she at times wears this influence on her sleeves, Courtney proved she is her own musician.
This summer has proven one of the most exciting seasons of "AGT" in recent memory. We're only one night into the Quarterfinals, and there are already more than half a dozen acts I wouldn't mind seeing win the whole thing. It's going to be a wild ride to the finish.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Mel B, Martina McBride, 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.
(dancers) Once again, I am just not understanding the enduring appeal of this high school dance crew on this show. They always look under-rehearsed and sloppy when they perform. This time their vision was muddled, their lead dancers was way too limited, repeating moves constantly, and the whole thing just never came together. Honestly, it was kind of a mess.
(performance art) These guys were brought back as a wild card, and they're certainly one of the wilder acts to compete this season. It was once again so very stupid, but in the most entertaining of ways. This is the kind of stupid you say you'd never laugh at, and then suddenly you are. Simon still hates it, and it's pretty limited, but the hot dog stunt at the end was disgusting genius.
Junior New System
(dancers) These guys really upped their game for these live shows, giving their best non-heels segment we've seen yet. I would still like to see them tighter when they're supposed to be in sync, especially when dealing with tandem stunts, but I applaud their growth. The heels segment remains their shtick, and it's always fun, but I want them to continue finding ways to do unexpected things in them over flips and strutting.
(diabolo) This was the most intricate and powerful video projection background Mochi has used yet, and it's the reason he's still on here. The group diabolo was more visually compelling with what they did with diabolo, but Mochi has fused it with technology to create a stunning new form of expression. His inclusion of actual sparks was inspired. I still don't think it's worth a million dollars, but at least he really stepped up his game for the live shows.
(singer) Amanda brought a bilingual twist to P!nk's "What About Us," and it proved a powerful performance. She really has a powerful voice, and you can feel the life experiences and emotional pain she's endured, even at such a tender young age. Her range is incredible, and while she didn't hit every note flawlessly, she's the kind of growth story shows like "AGT" love.
Angel City Chorale
(choir) While not quite as dynamic as previous performances, this choir continues to impress with their powerhouse vocals. I would have liked a few heartfelt solos on this performance, considering the emotional power of the track, but I enjoyed the incorporation of a drumline, and applaud their continued use of creative choreography, even as they are effectively standing still to provide proper harmonies.
(family band) Another original song, and while it wasn't as powerful as their first two, it would be a tragedy if this trio didn't advance in the competition. They are a fresh and exciting new voice in music, and they sing with heart and compassion. On top of that, they are top-notch songwriters. They perform beautifully together and they've mastered connecting with an audience. With more experience and stage presence, they could really be something.
(comedian) I didn't love her "trailer nasty" segment as much as her earlier material in the set, but Vicki is a very strong comedian and a voice that deserves a wider audience. She writes from a unique point of view and she's not afraid to take off the filters and tell it like it is, and show it like it is, even if it's not all that flattering. All in all, it was a very solid performance.
(rapper) Once again, Flau'jae has proven herself a clever writer and a solid performer on the mic, though I think she could use some more dynamic range in her delivery from time to time. That said, she's 14-years old and spitting intelligent rhymes some established emcees aren't finding. More importantly, she is a voice of her generation, speaking to their reality, their fears, and their world in a way that feels both raw and important.
(escape artist) Once again, Lord Nil ups the ante and makes his escapes ever more dangerous, and seems to push himself to the absolute brink. If it's at all faked, he's very good. If it's authentic, he's amazing. I was on the edge of my seat, though there was no real danger that his girlfriend was going to reach the snakes. The alligator drop last week was far more perilous. The drowning element was very well handled, though.
(magician) While I'm sure a lot of the credit goes to the table he used, Shin Lim remains one of the best closeup magicians "AGT" has ever seen. Through a long and sustained segment, the audience, judges and I were absolutely mesmerized. And the camera is so close, his sleight of hand is impeccable Truly he deserves to move on in the competition.
(singer) There is no one quite like Courtney, and while she has a clear influence in Janis Joplin, tonight she proved that she is her own artist, even if she feels the music as powerfully as Janis did. I loved the way she moved, interpreted the song and really showcased that she has a voice underneath all the raw theatrics she puts on. Her moves felt a little more choreographed this time, but they were still infectious and felt totally unique to her.
From here on out, it's up to America who advances and who doesn't, and we'll find out on Wednesday nights how you did. Hopefully, you do a better job of aligning with my picks than the judges did. I've clearly made the best choices here, so let's just get it done!
"America's Got Talent" airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.