"I closed my eyes because I didn’t want to see you when you died," Vergara explained.
As if the first-ever live “America’s Got Talent” episode in the COVID-19 era wasn’t going to be different enough, now head honcho and judge Simon Cowell wasn’t available to take part after an electric bike accident over the weekend.
Simon is recovering after undergoing surgery Saturday night, so he will be out at least two weeks, meaning the show needed to find a fill-in right quick. Well, who better than the first American star Simon found on “American Idol,” and someone with experience as a judge/coach via network sibling “The Voice.”
Kelly Clarkson’s unending enthusiasm and deep understanding of the process that goes on behind these shows makes her a perfect last-minute addition to the cast. Plus, who doesn't love the idea of three women now having the majority over Howie Mandel?
And she wasn’t the only new addition. Huge props to the creative team and crew of “AGT” for creating an amazing venue at Universal Studios. Not only are the judges now seated a safe distance apart on the dais, but the entire stage is flanked with video screens featuring hundreds of fans watching it all unfold live.
It’s the next best thing to an in-person live audience and it looked incredible. This shows how technology is the bridge to bringing people together in these uncertain times. Plus, it feels so much more natural to have that interaction -- even digitally -- from a live audience at this stage of the competition.
And the action wasn’t limited to that stage, with acts performing on stage and around the Universal Studios lot as well, creating unique backdrops. Some are even beaming in globally from their homes -- travel restrictions being a thing.
We are so here for these innovations and hope others adopt it, or something similar, depending on how long COVID-19 continues to impact everything and everyone.
Tonight, only five of eleven acts will advance to the next round. 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 Kelly Clarkson. 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 you get it right (i.e. agree with me).
(dancer) Unfortunately, Frenchie falls into the trap so many who can dislocate a joint do, relying too heavily on the gimmick. It makes the act start to quickly feel repetitive, especially after multiple appearances. He needs to build a full routine around the bonebreaking and strengthen himself as a total dancer to really stand out and make a mark for himself. Especially as that left shoulder is in its own world of dislocation, so it is mesmerizing.
Pork Chop Revue
(animal act) When it comes to trained pigs, you just have to slow down the action. They moved a lot slower, but we still couldn’t stop smiling as they performed their various tricks -- with a few hiccups along the way. It wasn’t clean and the stunts weren’t super-challenging, but it was adorable and we saw some new moves from them. We’re not sure how far this can go, but it’s definitely something different and has an infectious charm.
Bello & Annaliese Nock
(daredevils) After Bello suffered an injury, Annaliese had to go on without him -- brother Petey stepped in to counterbalance. It’s a shame because we’ve already seen these daredevils perform separately, so were excited to watch the father-daughter duo together -- and we’ve not seen them yet this season other than a minor snippet. The problem is that alone it just wasn’t as cool, as we’ve seen stuff like this before. Plus, so much of the fear is staged, though we think the jump rope mishap was real. We’d only vote them through in hopes Bello could join her and we could see a true dual daredevil act.
(singer) We’re glad Shaquira returned to her country roots, but turning this Rascal Flatts track into a power anthem gave us a mixed bag. She oversang the end of it, and did a bit too much with the runs in the middle, but there were parts that reminded us of the woman who blew us away in that first audition. Unfortunately, we wanted that whole performance back and we only got pieces. Her voice is strong, but this lacked that extra something that makes it special.
Simon & Maria
(dancers) We were harsh on this young pair the last time and maybe they heard about it, because they really stepped things up this time around. Many of the lifts were seamless and beautifully executed. The hip-hop elements could have been a little stronger overall, but the choreography at a diner was creative, the whole vibe was high-energy fun and we saw some impressive and intricate salsa work sprinkled here and there, so they represented.
(danger act) Once again, his act was a bit of a mess because he has Sofia help him, but she really does make it much funnier. Brett played off of both her and Heidi well, proving what a showman he is, but it’s clear at just how out of sorts Sofia was as she fired that this was a misdirect. Maybe a cleaner partner would have obscured that a bit, but he’s still very entertaining and the stunt itself was quite clever.
(singer) Not quite as mind-blowing as the first time we saw her, you could see the nerves play across Roberta’s face and creep into her lower register. She still has an incredible instrument, regardless of age. But at ten years old, she’s practically a revelation. It was a smart song choice, as “You Say” takes listeners on a vocal journey and really spotlights so many facets of a voice. Roberta has an incredible instrument and she definitely knows how to use it.
(standup comedian) Michael delivered half of a very strong set; the second half. His first half was earnest about the birth of his son, but it was seriously lacking in both jokes and a natural narrative flow. By the time he shifted to not dying for your girl on the first date, he was in full flow with stronger material and a much more confident delivery. So we saw what he can be, but we also saw how wrong it could go. A mixed bag.
(singer) While this wasn’t the most showy song to perform at such a critical juncture on this stage, Archie still managed to wring the emotion out of it. The message certainly resonates in our divided culture, and it means so much coming from him considering his story as a man incarcerated most of his life for a crime he didn’t commit. But we wish the track had offered us a bit more of his range and strength as well as those tender heartfelt moments. He’s so much more than we saw here.
(singers) Everything about these twins is a delight from their personalities to their dance moves to their incredible vocals. They perform as one and neither is the stronger vocalist. In fact, they’re each plenty good enough to contend on this show, but together they are a true force of nature that will not be denied. We even loved the segment with the put-upon boyfriend dealing with living with his girlfriend and her twin. Sounds like a great sitcom to us!
(ukulele player) First of all, Taiwan is clearly behind Feng E. The 13-year-old performed live and his stage setting was almost as stunning as his playing. We thought we were impressed the first time he hit this stage, but he took it to the next level this time and absolutely floored us by rocking out on a ukulele like we’ve never seen before. It was incredible. He needed no other instruments or vocals to fill that stage. It was just incredible.
We’re going against everything we complain about by having so many singers in our Top 5, but they really did manage to stand out with far fewer issues than some of the other acts. That said, we could see Roberta missing out maybe in favor of Brett Loudermilk or Simon & Maria.
Of course, kid acts tend to do very well on here, and Roberta was incredible her first time out. We don’t think Archie was as strong, but he was still good and his story is so touching. Could America let him slip?
The truth is that there were a lot of so-so acts this week with only a few really standing out as stellar. So a lot of this could come down to past performances and overall feelings about the act.
So, we’re going to predict that Michael’s early missteps cost him the next chance and he doesn’t advance. Simon & Maria slide into his position and the rest of our Top 5 make it, so that would be good news for Feng E, Double Dragon, Archie Williams and Roberta Battaglia.
We’ll find out what happens soon as “America’s Got Talent expands to two nights a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.