From a Kazakh teen singer to a unique Indian dancing duo, "America's Got Talent" is bringing memorable talent from around the world.
The auditions rolled on with full audiences in these pre-taped segments of "America's Got Talent," and it is hard to imagine what this show will be like without their energy. Twice tonight, the audience dictated how the judges vote, and their collective in put is always huge.
There are interesting times ahead to be sure. But for now, it was more of what we've come to expect from "AGT," with incredible performances, stories of breaking the mold and taking a chance, and stories of strength and perseverance in the face of hardship.
One of this week's feel-good stories came from a young woman who'd been told she didn't fit the mold physically to be a dancer, but has proven everyone wrong even before hitting this stage. Then, a 13-year-old contortionist proved that her body could do incredible things that hurt to even think about ... and all with a cheeky smile!
There were, of course, incredible vocal performances throughout the night, including a young teenager from Kazakhstan, a recently-homeless single mother, a barbershop quartet taking on Lizzo of all artists, and another young woman who'd spent her life being told her physical appearance didn't fit the mold.
It's one of the most important aspects of "AGT," and something other reality shows have started to embrace more. We don't have to live within narrow stereotypes of what is acceptable. Every style, every body, every ethnicity, every sexual orientation is both valid and worthy of celebration (something Simon Cowell champions here but definitely did not in his "American Idol" days).
While we have to acknowledge ongoing litigation against "AGT" for allegations of racism from former judge Gabrielle Union behind the scenes as a caveat to what is presented to viewing audiences, the show has done a good job of celebrating people from all walks of life from all parts of the world ... at least on the surface.
But the most important thing we learned tonight is that Sofia Vergara can be crushed by stage fright. Challenged to tell the audience a warm-up joke, she failed so spectacularly it was probably funnier to watch that than if she had been able to come up with a joke.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
And just for fun, I'm gonna rank them from worst to first to see how my favorites do and whether or not the judges are getting it right (i.e. agreeing with me).
(world record breaker) So this guy's act is to break world records. This time he challenged Terry Crews to tear t-shirts in a minute needing 29 to set a new record. He got 30, Terry fell just short and the judges were only so-so. It's a very, very weird act, but he did manage to make it entertaining for that minute. If he ha some showmanship on top of the records, or some humor or something it might work as an act, but as it is now, it falls a little flat.
Result: Y, Y, N, N
Bank of Harmony
(barbershop quartet) It was cute that they did "Juice," but there was nothing really amazing about it. We don't think it deserved buzzes from Simon and Heidi, but they really needed to blow us away with more than just their song choice. In their defense, it was clear Simon's buzz really rattled them and shook their confidence, which is a shame. This could grow into a really fun act.
Result: N, X, N, X
(dancer) For someone technically trained at such a young age, we were hoping for a little more polish on the technical side. She has the energy and put together a fun routine, but it wasn't one that would dazzle or impress (Heidi gave it the X). Her one roll to the ground was a little clumsy, so her best stunt was the splits. We applaud her shirking body stereotypes in dance (which are harsh and unfair most of the time), but we were really hoping for her to blow us away with more than just energy ... we wanted dance moves! And we know she can deliver them as she pretty much does this as her thing, appearing with various pop stars in music videos and even other reality shows like "The Voice." She's got it, we're just not sure she brought it.
(magicians) Not so much magic as absurdist comedy, but it was funny. It was bizarre and ridiculous and yet it was funny. It would have been amazing had there been one surprising moment of actual magic in the act, but their chemistry and the overall showmanship did keep us entertained nonetheless. Even the opening intro was funny. The question is, how far can it go?
Result: Y, Y, Y, N
Emerald Gordon Wulf
(contortionist) It wasn't until the final stunt that we started to see that there could be more to what she does. At first, it was like, look, an incredibly bendy contortionist act, It was a little repetitive but delivered with a sweet showmanship that was infectious. The blow dart with her foot was the added element of intrigue and interest that elevated the act beyond just one-note. It's not a winning act, but she's adorable ... and can fit in your carry-on luggage.
Result: Y, Y, Y, Y
(comedian) It took a bit for the audience to slide into 80-year-old Marty's world, but that's only natural. Once there, though, he brought them along with his rarely-heard perspective on the world and some genuinely charming and funny moments. He has a natural cadence to his delivery that makes him easy to listen to, but it also demands sharp material and not all of his jokes hit as hard as they needed to. But he has a likable charm to him.
(singer) She fell way off the beat and missed a huge note at the start of a high run, but Cristina does have a powerful voice. We're a little mixed on this one as it felt like she was overwhelmed by everything going on. She didn't give her best audition on that first track, but Simon immediately wanted to hear another song from her, to give her another chance. She needed it. When she hit the chorus of "Gimme Shelter," that's when it was clear she'd shaken off the nerves that disrupted her the first time around. She owes everything to that second chance as she hit every note, stayed on mark and really brought the house down. Consistency is her next challenge.
Result: Heidi's Golden Buzzer
(singer) It's amazing how many people have such incredible voices at so tender an age on these shows. Daneliya does not sing like a 13 year old. Even more impressively, even as English is not her first language, she was able to emote the message of the song perfectly. She could use some polish and some experience on a stage to gain in confidence and performance, but that instrument is a genuine gift and something special. She could achieve her dreams if she continues to work hard.
Result: Y, Y, Y Y
Shakir & Rihan
(dancers) Like nothing we've ever seen before, we loved the choreography effectively telling the story of an older and younger brother and that unique bond that is almost indescribable. It could work for a parent and child, too. The creativity in using the smaller body with the larger body both in dance moves and in incredibly creative lifts makes this so special. Rihan could stand to tighten up a bit his dancing between tricks, but he still had some amazing moments ... and he's nine! This was a very cool and very memorable audition.
(singer) A masterful performance of "Mercy," Celina is a world-class vocalist who doesn't know at all how good she is. Her choices for when to soar, when to slide into a gentle falsetto, when to hold a note just a half-beat longer. Those are gifts. She's a natural at feeling the song and expressing it with an incredibly genuine tone. We felt that every bit as much as she did. It's a great song, but easy to go karaoke on. Celina delivered it like it was her own.
Result: Y, Y, Y Y
(singers) This is how you demand attention as a trio of singers. Each of them had a solo part to kick things off to prove what they're capable of individually and then they fully combined to show off what they can do together. This was a memorable arrangement with a silky male voice at the center of it. It's exciting to imagine how they might interpret other songs, and that's how you want to leave people feeling on a show like this.
Result: Y, Y, Y, Y
"America's Got Talent" continues Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.