The blind, autistic pianist and singer was the clear front-runner heading into the performance finales, but faces stiff competition from nine other incredible acts.
What can we say about the finals of "America's Got Talent"? Even the worst act on the night was very good, and it just got better from there.
One of the most impressive lineups of talent hit the stage and almost everyone stepped it up from earlier performances. One act was a colossal disappointment with what was effectively a repeat performance, even though it was performed well.
Blind, autistic singer Kodi Lee was probably the favorite going into the night. He is a world-class talent, but he faced some very stiff competition.
Vocalists alone included Voices of Service, Detroit Youth Choir, Emanne Beashe, Benicio Bryant and Ndlovu Youth Choir. Add the dancers of Light Balance Kids and V.Unbeatable and it's already looking like a pretty stacked competition.
But we can't underestimate the appeal and strength of both violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa and stand-up comedian Ryan Niemiller. Both are among the best the show has ever had in their respective fields.
Is it Kodi's to lose? It may be too tight to say for sure..
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.
And just for fun, I'm gonna rank them from worst to first to see who emerges as my Top 4 and ultimate winner.
Detroit Youth Choir
(singers) A reprise of their initial audition performance, DYC expanded the content and put in some impressive stepping. Still, it would have been nice to see them bring us something new to continue to showcase their growth and diversity. This lacked that wow factor because we'd effectively seen it before. Also, the rap segments weren't nearly as strong this time and were hard to hear. Overall, they look and sound great but that wasn't a killing blow.
(dancers) Well, the judges were on their feet, but the ladder jumps just didn't seem nearly as exciting or dangerous as the last time we saw them. In fact, none of the stunts were up to the level of what we've seen in the past, and the whole routine actually came across as a little boring and repetitive. Jumping and being tossed are not dance, and we've seen both done better by this crew. This piece just didn't work for us at all. Clearly it came across much stronger in person.
Light Balance Kids
(light dancers) This was perhaps the most visually creative the crew has been, and while the dancing remained fairly standard, we enjoyed the way they interacted with the background, effectively creating a fun and dynamic music video live on stage. This group is starting to show their potential and what they could do with this technology and it's encouraging to see, but we're not sure it's worthy of winning the top prize as they stand now.
(singer) Benicio took a risk with an original song again, and we're not sure it paid off this time He's still an incredibly talented artist and we'd love to see him get a recording contract out of this show, but this song was hard to understand and lacked a powerful hook or memorable beat or rhythm or bridge or anything to really latch into our memories and make him stand out enough to win this season.
(violinist) He got a little ahead of the beat at times and even out of tune a bit in the middle, but Tyler had an incredible start to what was effectively a duet with Destiny's Child and Beyonce on "Survivor." It was a great song choice for the start, but there were segments of it that don't translate as well to the violin, and that's where a varied arrangement would have helped. Still, he had some clever parts in there and really proved himself quite the violinist. Was it enough? Probably not, but he's still an impressive talent.
(singer) The diminutive opera singer really soared on "La Mamma Morta" and she sounded effortlessly stunning. Not a note missed and such command of every moment of her performance. While she's in a very particular sub-genre of music, Emanne is killing the game in her realm It's just a matter of if America finds her mastery of opera more compelling than someone else's mastery in their realm. We're not confident they will this season.
(stand-up comedian) As always, Ryan delivers. His material is smoothly delivered and we love that it was updated to reflect his life now after he's gained some fame as part of "America's Got Talent." This proves he's still crafting material and he can still bring the funny as opposed to relying on a few jokes she's been honing for years. Could he be the first comedian to ever win? This wasn't his sharpest set, but he's the real deal.
Ndlovu Youth Choir
(singers) Definitely the stronger choir on the night, Ndlovu exudes a joyousness when they perform. They also create variety in their performances by separating the vocal ranges of the choir and giving them different things to do. It gets dull if everyone is on the melody and you don't get as rich of a sound. Ndlovu knows how to embrace their culture, their sound and bring their message to the world. It was a beautiful performance of, appropriately enough, "Africa" by Toto.
Voices of Service
(singers) While this didn't pack quite the emotional wallop of their previous performance, Voices of Service still put on an incredible performance. Even better, this piece was arranged to allow each of them a moment to shine and it only proved that all four of them have incredible talents and voices, and that together they create magic. This has been one of our top contenders to win the whole thing, and they're still in the mix after that.
(singer/pianist) That may have just been the performance that sealed Kodi's fate as the winner of "AGT" Season 14. What an incredibly seasoned and nuanced performance. His piano playing is beautiful and he has such control of his voice. This time it all felt more natural, the choices he made vocally throughout, and he felt like he was more confident than ever as a performer. We said this was his to lose, and he might have just won it.
We actually hate ourselves that vocalists dominated the top of our rankings as we always try to champion the diversity of the "AGT" format ... but dammit, so many of the vocalists in this finals were better at what they do than the artists in other genres.
While you can see our rankings above for the night, that doesn't necessarily mean we think the acts will finish in the same order. That said, we absolutely think Kodi Lee is going to walk away with the $1 million. That money was basically his from the moment he first opened his mouth in that initial audition.
It's a little sketchy beyond that. We suspect that Ndlovu Youth Choir isn't connecting with an American audience as much as they are us, so we could definitely see a Top 3 rounded out by Voices of Service and Ryan Niemiller.
Beyond that, though, it gets a bit murky. There are great stories and great talent throughout this Top 10. In fact, while we hate to agree with hyperbole for drama's sake, the judges may not have been exaggerating all that much when they said this was the best finale ever ... certainly the depth of talent on that roster of finalists is beyond what we usually get.
"America's Got Talent" wraps up its 14th season with a three-hour extravaganza, Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
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