The acts tonight were either great or downright awful, there was no in-between ... and there were way too many great acts with only seven spots advancing, so we're already mad!
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have tonight's episode of "America's Got Talent." There was no in-between.
Even more problematic, there were way more than seven great acts making the judges' jobs even harder. Jay Leno joined them as the panel's fifth judge (but he's more like a sixth judge to us), and proved very hard on comedians.
It was an interesting night of talent with a ton of vocalists, a pair of magicians, no less than three comedians, multiple dancers and one dog act. Usually there's more variety on the night.
And usually there's a little bit better balance between the Judges Cuts nights of the talent overall. This episode, however, was loaded with stellar acts that really stepped up their game and blew everyone away.
And then it was filled with acts that were boring or awful or downright disappointing. Maybe it represented modern America better than we think. You either thought the act was great or you thought it was horrible. There was no middle ground at all.
But at the top,, it was almost impossible to narrow it down to seven acts to advance, and there was no way to be happy with those choices simply because of the amazing acts that were going to have to go.
We laughed, we cried and we thanked every lord in every heaven that there are three wild cards that will be advancing to the live shows as well ... maybe all three will come from this episode. Yes, it was that packed with talent!
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 seventeen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
(comedian) She came out a little shrill and her opening "okurr" joke definitely fell flat. It's hard to recover when you lose the audience at the top and Kara never really did. She also recurred the bit of keeping things in her bra (this time two wine bottles). This was just kind of cringey, leaving us feeling really bad for her.
("performer") Last round's accidental golden buzzer hitter was underwhelming then and underwhelming again. Are we done with him now, please? Also, while accidentally hitting the golden buzzer the first time was cute, this time it was annoying.
(comedian) Um, Jonathan didn't really have an act this time. Even Terry Crews couldn't make it entertaining, and he's Terry Crews. That says everything.
(dancers) There was something missing in this routine that was needed to bring it together and make it tighter. As it was, it felt kind of empty and a little chaotic. That's a risk of a large group when not everyone is in perfect sync. More problematic, there didn't seem to be anything to say with the dance, there was nothing particularly stunning about any of the moves (was that waacking?) nor did they create any memorable moments or pictures to help us recall them later.
(singer) We only got a few moments of this performance, but it seemed kind of listless and lacking as a showcase for who Nicholas is as a performer and an artist. The voice was solid enough, but that was not a showcase performance.
(juggler) We didn't get to see much of Viktor's initial "horizontal juggling" routine, but it certainly looked interesting, though we're not sure it's quite enough to earn a future on the show.
(magicians) We only saw a glimpse of this which seemed to involve swallowing needles, threading them through a string and then pulling them back out. It's impressive but it generally lacks that wow factor that leaves you wanting to see more.
The Dominguez Family
(dog act) A genuinely fun and exciting act filled with very cool stunts and rock-solid discipline from all of the dogs throughout. The kids were adorable and while there weren't any mind-blowing stunts, every bit of it was well executed and some of those last jumps were truly high-flying and impressive.
(singer) He took "High Hopes" a little lower but he really managed to connect with the lyrics and draw the audience in. We didn't get the full performance, but Jordan is the kind of young, good-looking vocal talent that moguls like Simon Cowell can easily fashion into the next big thing.
(magician) This trick was absolutely stunning and had a lot of razzmatazz to it in how he delivered it. It might just be a matter of too many magicians as we got short-changed on his performance as well, but honestly, this looked like it was a lot of fun and we'd definitely like to see more of what he can do.
(singer) There was perhaps a little too much vocal affectations going on at the expense of a real emotional connection with the song, but there is no denying that Callie is a phenomenal vocal talent. She has a precision with every choice she makes vocally that even when she's riffing, everything is absolutely calculated to perfection. That makes it a bit clinical, but also incredibly impressive.
(singer) While we would have loved a second verse on this original track to see how Benicio goes in and out of that more high-octane chorus, this was a well-constructed song perfectly suited to his voice. Benicio has impressive pipes at 14 years old with a great range, great power and a very cool presence on stage that's captivating. He was memorable his first time out and he'll surely be memorable again.
(singer) We have no idea what she was singing, but it was beautiful. Opera done well transcends language and becomes about the emotion behind each song and Emanne was able to tap into that. It's astonishing her voice is that mature and rich at only ten years old; we can only imagine what years of training can do to her range and power. Oh, and Jay Leno totally gave her his Golden Buzzer because there was nothing else like her on the night.
(comedian) It's so hard to do comedy under these conditions, and Jackie absolutely slayed the short time she had. Her set was tight it was consistent and it knew the audience it was speaking to. Would L.A. jokes work everywhere, probably not, but they definitely worked with that audience and that panel. On top of that, her character on stage is so relatable and real, she makes you feel like she's just your friend gabbing in your ear and cracking you up. She nailed that.
(magician) Eric mixed it up this time with actually talking to the crowd and skipping cards altogether. Instead, he blew us away with coins appearing and disappearing and it was all very cool to watch. It missed some of the flair and surprise of his first audition, but he remains an incredible magician with a very cool stage presence. And as much as we missed his own surprise at his magic, it's good he mixed it up and showed a different side.
(singer) The voice that comes out of her little 13-year-old body is just ridiculous. It's filled with so much grit and pain you'd never guess she was so young. The song felt perhaps a bit mature at times for her tender age, but at the same time, it had a youthful angst that she's certainly close to in real life if not there already. The bottom line is that this girl sang the hell out of that song.
(acrobat) Contortionist-dancer Marina Mazepa really shocked and impressed her first time out, and she definitely upped the ante this time. The addition of pole work to her routine really took it to the next level and we could not take our eyes off of her, even as Simon couldn't handle the intensity of her stare into his. Marina was in the zone and this was a magically disturbing, compelling and artistic expression through movement.
Voices of Service
(singers) Even more incredible than the last time they performed these veteran and active service soldiers have a powerful message of hope and healing through their music and they pour every bit of their own experiences into these songs. "See You Again" is already a powerful song, but this group just took it to another level. It was staggering and heartbreaking.
This was an incredibly tough night for the judges and for us as there were ten or eleven really good acts (while the rest were incredibly disappointing.
While we felt good about our Top 7 going into this -- which obviously included Jay Leno's Golden Buzzer Emanne Beasha -- we also know the judges liked several of our 8 through 11 acts as well. So anything could happen.
The judges kicked things off with a no-brainer by putting Voices of Service through because of course they did. They were followed by Eric Chien as the only magician to make it (which is disappointing for Sos, but we get it. Hey, that's what wild cards are for.
Just like our tough cut at seven, Callie Day looked like a difficult cut for the judges, so she could be a contender for a second chance, too. Marina Mazepa was a surprise moment for us where the judges agreed, but she is absolutely amazing to watch and we're so excited to get more.
Marina was followed by Charlotte Summers and Jackie Fabulous (after Howie faked her out), and then there was only one spot left. Would it be our Number Seven pick?
It was down to Benicio Bryant and Jordan Ravi and then, out of nowhere, Simon went them both backstage to deliberate more. Could they both go through? A happy ending for everyone?!
Nope, it looks like there may have been a last-minute change so the panel could line up with our picks and put Benicio Bryant into the next round. That said, Jordan looks like a sure thing for the wild cards, doesn't he?
It turns out three more acts will get picked from the rejected contestants and move onto the live shows as wild cards. How many will come from tonight's stellar lineup? Will fan-favorite Ansley Burns make a surprise return?
Starting next week, "America's Got Talent" expands to two nights a week, Tuesdays and Wedesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.