Bikinis, Booze and Babes: How Stars Celebrated Labor Day Weekend

Singers 65-year-old Robert Finley and 14-year-old Benicio Bryant prove age means nothing when it comes to talent with powerful semi-finals original songs.

For the first time in "America's Got Talent" semi-finals history, the panel welcomed a guest judge in "Will & Grace" star Sean Hayes, to help them winnow eleven acts down to five.

Unfortunately, he didn't do much and took time away from the regular panel. Either Simon isn't thrilled with the new additions this season or he's just trying things out. Either way, it didn't really work and we don't expect to see this again next season.

As for the talent, there was incredible disappointment throughout the night. Some of the strongest acts from earlier rounds really seemed to let the pressure of the semi-finals just destroy their confidence.

Don't get us wrong, there were bona fide highlights as well, but some shockingly bad performances from some great acts. It did help us pick a Top 5 from what looked initially like a very strong lineup of talent. Maybe that's why so many blew it.

Even more unfortunate, many of the acts that bombed were of the "variety" variety, which could make for a very boringly homogenous finale.

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.

Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Gabrielle Union, Julianne Hough and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

And just for fun through this round, I'm gonna rank them from worst to first to see who emerges as my Top 5 winner this week and next.

Ansley Burns

(singer) Ansley says that this is the first time she's chosen her own song, and she went with Carrie Underwood's "Cry Pretty" and it starts a little rough. It's always hard to really impress on those low notes when a song builds to a crescendo like so many of Underwood's tracks. The problem is that Ansley has no connection to this song and her nerves were clearly getting the best of her. She even missed the lyric at one poit and put her hand over her mouth. We're not sure what that staging was, either, she looked like she was lost in a drug-addled field of weeds. Ansley has had a remarkably unpredictable journey on "AGT" but it's time for it to end.

Greg Morton

(impressionist) There's something about tapping into your childhood that really makes for a stronger connection than Greg's disconnected movie bits. Plus, he had a few more narrative scenes between some of these classic cartoon characters. Now, his references cover literal decades, so a lot of them would be lost on younger viewers but 90 percent of these voices were spot-on and incredibly impressive. If he doesn't win this show, he should definitely be doing voiceover work. Hell, he could voice an entire show all by himself! Still wishing there was more than just moments from Greg, but this was still a step up.

Jackie Fabulous

(comedian) Aside from a few funny moments, this whole routine just didn't work like her earlier sets. We're not sure if it was nerves or just a lack of polish on the material with only one week to prepare, but this was a colossal disappointment. She wasn't bad, but on a night of tough competition, it probably wasn't enough to advance, either. "AGT" needs a comedian to win, but if Preacher Lawson couldn't do it, maybe it just isn't possible.

Eric Chien

(magician) Even though it was cool seeing Eric transform cards into three-dimensional replicas of world monuments, the entire performance began to feel a little sleepy by the time he got to that big reveal. It was a lot of what we've seen before from misdirection magicians and lacked the wow factor we've come to know from him. Honestly, listening to Simon -- as he appeared to do -- seemed to sap Eric of what made him so remarkable when he first came out and instead of rising to the occasion, his nerves and doubt are getting the best of him.

Light Balance Kids

(dancers) Something just fell flat here. For one, we've seen the dancing Iron Men. For another, the car driving through the Avengers made no narrative sense, though it did work when Hulk smashed it. When the routine first started, the dancers weren't together at all and the costuming didn't do much other than put them in something different to essentially do the same rudimentary dance moves over and over again. Light is supposed to add infinite creative possibilities, and once again, they barely utilized its potential. The judges (save Julianne), on the other hand, though them one of the best acts of the night.

Tyler Butler-Figueroa

(violinist) Tyler needs to step it up each time he hits the stage, and there just weren't enough moments that really took him to the next level. He's a fun entertainer, but this was too much just playing the lyric lines of the song. The moments where he didn't were rapid staccato beats but nothing super complex. It would have been cool to see him really break out a new arrangement or something to really stand out. At this stage of the game, that might not have been enough.


Benicio Bryant

(singer) While we didn't love Benicio's original song, "Fall Apart," as much as we liked his last one, he still gives a confident and commanding performance on stage. Plus, he got to perform last, he's a good-looking young guy and he's likable, so he'll probably be just fine despite this misstep. That said, this is a tough night of competition, so anything can happen.

The Messoudi Brothers

(acrobats) Look, you either get how incredibly difficult and compelling this is or you don't. There was so much danger and strength throughout that routine and the brothers have just monumental trust and faith in one another. This was a huge step up from their previous performances, and proved that there are creative ways to make balancing on each other look different and exciting. It was a little slow, yes, but nevertheless very cool.

Robert Finley

(singer) Robert upped the game by adding guitar to his performance of an original song, "Age Don't Mean a Thing." The song isn't as strong as what we've seen before him, but Robert's voice is still incredible and so polished and well-seasoned. His guitar playing was on point as well, but at this stage of the game he missed out on a big moment to really capture the audience's memory. The night is packed with huge acts, so incredible talent may not be exciting enough to advance. He's deserving, but can he pull it off?

Ndlovu Youth Choir

(choir) Steve Winwood got a South African spin in this high-energy and euphoric rendition of "Higher Love." While the soloist did a great job, it was in the choral arrangements and the combining of their own traditions into those lyrics that made this piece move and transcend a basic performance. Ndlovu are ambassadors of their part of the world, and they express so much love and beauty, it was good to see this piece continue to grow and really reach a powerful climax as it did drag a bit in the solo portions early on.

Kodi Lee

(singer) This wasn't a flawless performance, nor was it as strong as his initial audition, but it showed a marked improvement over the last performance and kudos to Kodi for going more current with Calum Scott's "You Are the Reason." It showed that he could be a current artist, which is important as we near the end of the show. What's remarkable about Kodi is that while it's not easy to see his niche in the modern music scene, we can easily see him making a place for himself by sheer force of talent and will. And what he stands for as an autistic artist is so important and remarkable.


Honestly, we don't think America is going to back our decisions here at all. It's hard to imagine Tyler's incredible story and talent not advancing. At the same time we suspect the Messoudi Brothers just weren't flashy enough.

The reality is that "AGT" is often about the more familiar and wide-appeal talents like music, dance, magic and comedy. While some acts outside of those have found success, it's always a tougher road to forge for them.

At the same time, "AGT" has always rewarded and revered young people with incredible talents, which could spell trouble for Robert.

Perhaps Tyler and Light Balance will creep in at the expenses of Robert and the Messoudis. Honestly, that's our prediction of how this is going to go ... and we hope we're wrong.

"America's Got Talent" airs Tuesdays and Wedesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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