"Saturday Night Live" star Kenan Thompson steps in this week for Simon Cowell, still recovering from back surgery.
We are officially at the halfway point of these quarter-finals on “America's Got Talent” and we celebrated with a really mixed bag.
That is to say that some of these acts were quite compelling, while others absolutely blew their first live performance. This is the stage of the competition that makes or breaks the acts, and let’s just say many of them will be picking up the pieces for weeks to come.
Fans of last year's short-lived comedy competition series “Bring the Funny” might have been surprised to see him here as he had some pointed insight on that show. Maybe had he faced a comedian, he’d have felt more confident letting them have it, rather than loving pretty much everything.
In fact, there was perhaps more gushing than actual judging going on this week. Is this indicative of Simon’s absence, as he was always the most critical and real judge. There were only two contestants who got some tough love from the judges, and we’d say at least twice that deserved it.
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 Kenan Thompson. 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).
(singer) Unfortunately, Kameron’s harmonies with his backing singers were just terrible and then he started hitting a lot of wrong notes. We found ourselves cringing for him as he powered through. We were on board with the country take on “Million Reasons,” just not this country take. Kameron was much better than this the last time we saw him.
(dancers) There were some charming moments throughout this piece, but it can’t be good that it started to feel long. This comes down to a lack of intricacy in their moves. With a group this big, we should have gotten pictures and lots of cool moments and instead we got a lot of the same shape and fairly rudimentary hip-hop moves (that weren’t always perfectly in sync). If you’re going to dance with a mask, losing expression and connection with your face, your body has to carry the whole thing and blow us away. It didn’t happen here.
(impressionist) So Vincent did some more nursery rhymes as famous rappers, leaning heavily on Eminem and Snoop Dogg as he did in the first round. In other words, we’ve pretty much seen what he’s got and it’s not diverse enough to carry a whole show. As much as we enjoyed his first audition, this was incredibly disappointing.
(singer) Kelvin is a cute kid, but this was an incredibly dated performance of a rather dated song and he didn’t do anything to inject with a modern sensibility. The vocals were solid enough, but there was nothing particularly memorable about him in this performance. America loves kid singers but they have to usually at least be great kid singers, and he was just good. So not good enough.
(singer) We’re not loving the song choice as much as we love everything 1980s glam rock about BONAVEGA himself. He’s a born performer, has a very cool retro vibe to him that he still somehow manages to make feel cool. But this song didn’t allow his vocals to shine as they did in the last round. He was a surprise then because his singing was so strong, but this time around, the delightful camp overshadowed the vocals a bit -- especially early on. He did end strong, which could be enough to move forward..
Alexis & The Puppy Pals
(dog trainer) A little chaotic, as all dog shows tend to be, and with a heavy assist from who we’re guessing is her mom, Alexis kept things moving through a fairly standard series of dog tricks. She is rather cute herself, but is this a next-level dog act? It feels like it could be with more practice and innovation. The best trick was all three dogs in and on the rolling barrel. And we love her discipline and control over them, so overall we’d call this a success.
(choir) We love that they can find a way to allow a soloist to shine via spoken word if they’re perhaps not confident or strong enough of a singer. The mission is even more important than the music with this act, but the choral arrangement of “Stand by Me” here was nothing short of astounding and it was executed so well. We’ve heard stronger and more impressive vocals out of choirs on this show, but this was still a great performance from an amazing organization. We don't, however, love that the staging left most of the choir virtually invisible throughout this entire performance.
(diabolo act) We’ve oddly seen a lot of diabolo on this show, but these brothers really do offer some death-defying newness to the act. There were some incredibly intricate moves and a lot of excitement you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in such a singular act. But it was never less than entertaining. Clearly they are constantly experimenting with the limits of their chosen format and seeking to expand them.
(danger act) What a cool fire stunt, and Jonathan played it to the last second -- don’t they all, though? In all truth, though, this was utterly compelling to watch, though we could have perhaps done without the hand shaking at that first handcuff for quite so long. It was clear he was in total control the whole time, so maybe find a better way to sell that early uncertainty for the audiences as that seemed a bit much. Still, he’s very good at what he does, and there was real danger all around him until the last moment, so we’re still on the edge of our seat.
(singer) It’s probably a good sign that our biggest criticism here is Daneliya’s wardrobe. Maybe it’s just us, because we kind of think that dress would look silly on anyone. But her voice continues to blow us away coming out of her tiny 14-year-old body. She has effortless control, and even on a song that didn’t offer much in the way of range or power, she managed to pull us in and make us believe that she believed what she was singing. She’s a world-class talent in the making.
(dancers) Did he forget to finish the last stunt? We also don’t love that the floor was clearly marked for her speed spinning as that seems like a bit of a cheat. All of that aside, though, some of these lifts are absolutely incredible. The only negative we’d give is that incredible lifts is basically all this act is. Now, on this show you can get away with that because it’s not a dance competition, but we’d have liked a breather and some more dance between them. As a stunt act, though, they were nearly flawless and breathtakingly stunning.
Once again, we’re not convinced that just because they were the best act of the night they’ll get to stick around. After all, last week’s strongest act (Feng E) was given the boot. Could BAD Salsa follow? If so, we’re going to have to suspect it’s because they’re performing from another country, as Feng E did.
Otherwise, it would make no sense. That was an incredible act. And on a night where incredible was hard to come by, shouldn’t it be rewarded. We already know Voices of Our City Choir is going through because of their story even more than their talent, and we suspect Daneliya Tuleshova will make it.
We’re less confident in Jonathan Goodwin and Spyros Bros making it as those are more avant garde acts that don’t always resonate with the general American audience. If they falter, that makes room for another kid singer, Kelvin Dukes, or even Alexis & The Puppy Pals.
Honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised to see BONAVEGA steal one of those slots, either, as he is so memorable and entertaining at what he does. But is he too out there?
If we had to guess, we’d say he makes it in, along with Voices of Our City Choir, Daneliya Tuleshova, BAD Salsa and -- we’re going to go out on a limb and say Jonathan Goodwin pulls it out.
We’ll find out what if you get it right as “America’s Got Talent” continues Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.