Instead, they switched up the seating arrangement for the remaining three judges creating a more permanent visual look for this setup. In other words, they're no longer thinking Simon could come back any moment, so there's no point pretending.
Tonight saw the Golden Buzzer acts for both Cowell and Heidi Klum, with the former giving him some tough love. Well, first they wished him well after their performance. Then, after a beat, aded, ""Read the manual before getting on a scooter, please!"
Cowell broke his back while trying out an electric bike on his property and had to endure five hours of surgery. He has been home recovering ever since. While he's suggested his intention to return by the season finale, they're taking it week by week at this point. And it looks like they're no longer planning his return, instead maybe just hoping for it.
As for the show itself, these eleven acts came stacked with talent and ready to fight hard for America's vote. Usually Howie Mandel is prone to melodramatics and exaggeration, but he was exactly right in saying this was the best overall night of talent all season.
We'd have been happy to see more than half of these acts advance, even if it meant losing some others that have already done so.
From incredibly gifted and unique singers to a couple of really strong dance crews, and more touching stories of struggle than we can shake a tissue at, "AGT" just offered up a breathless night of entertainment and we do not want to see six of these acts go.
Two or three of them, yes. They can hit the road. But the rest all deserve their chance.
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 Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Sofia Vergara. 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) We're very happy that Annie got to live out her Hogwarts dream, but this was just not up to the level needed to succeed in this competition. Suddenly, she sounded like a talented youngster at a school talent competition, with a few bad notes throughout but fun energy. Her moves on stage were at about that same level, and that's just not the caliber that most kids bring to this stage. She's just not ready yet, but we saw glimmers of the performer she could become as she matures into material like this.
(stand-up comedian) The more edgy misogynistic sendups might have worked with an audience fully in your corner, but this is the era of Covid, so Usama didn't have that luxury. As such, the awkward silences only grew and Heidi just looked uncomfortable when he singled her out. Look, this wasn't a terrible set but it also wasn't nearly as strong as it needed to be at this stage of the competition. He seemed a little rattled with the lack of audience, and we're just not sure the material resonated as he might have liked.
(contortionists) For some reason, this wasn't as compelling to watch as the last time these three performed. Some of the tricks we'd seen before and some were done too much in this routine alone. Plus, the dramatic bonebreaking twists just didn't seem quite as shocking or well executed. Thye needed to step it up this time and they didn't.
(dancers) It turns out you can dance in a mask. DTF made a bold statement visually, but their masks were visually stylish and it actually added to the drama of their performance. This was truly fantastic choreography, showcasing their Latin style, showing off their superstar dancers and keeping things shifting and moving throughout. We'd have liked a few more wow moments as it did start to feel a little long, but it was a fun and high-energy way to start the show.
(mentalist) Even though he pulled the curtain back to reveal how he set this one up, it was still powerful to see all those drawings of suns on the "AGT" audience screens scattered around the studio. "Even in this virtual world, we are all connected," Max said, and it's such an important message. As for his act, he did take a little wind out of it by revealing how he pulled it off, but we still enjoyed the trick. His stage presence could use a little punch, but he pulled off a compelling act nonetheless.
(aerialist) We wish he was a little smoother between his stunts, and that he didn't repeat some of the ones we already saw -- or he did more variance while in the air -- but Alan remains not only an inspiration for anyone facing adversity in life but for anyone afraid to step outside of expectations and follow their dreams. The stunt that broke his neck was a cool finale and the death drop was very cool, but was it enough? We're not so sure.
(singer) This was a good, strong original song but we suspect we got the shortened version, which didn't really do it any favors. Nolan continues to have a lot of passion and emotion in his voice, which creates a connection, but this wasn't as strong as his first time out. He did work in a wail to remind us what his voice can do, but it was just that one glimmer. We kind of think he should have shown a little more to stand out better here.
(dancers) If you're not going to have a perfect routine, these guys delivered how you want to. It got stronger as it went along until that final groove was just magic. There's such a kinetic energy to the way they move and so much life and joy in their dancing, that you find yourself able to forgive moments that are a little wild and lacking in control. Precious would be nice, but with such clever use of their environment, the entertainment value never let up so we can let it slide.
(singer) An artist twice over, Sheldon is as much about his unique visual presentation than his voice. And both are kind of stellar. This piece started with a haunting quality that never quite slid into boring and made its way to soaring vocals. He is a true artist who could make any stage his own with a visual style as eclectic as Boy George and a voice as rich as George Michael.
(drummer) We've never seen anything like it and we won't soon forget it. Malik turned drumming into a full-body experience, an artform with dancing, acrobatics, juggling and incredible drumming across the stage on myriad drums. He's an entire act all by himself and not just because he's an incredible drummer, but because he has the vision to make drumming the centerpiece ... a showpiece. And it works!
(singer) What an incredibly controlled and intentional vocal performance. Cristina is so familiar and in control of her instrument she could make each note resonate with power and purpose. This song is so overplayed on shows like this, but Cristina still managed to make it sound fresh and exciting. She really is a worthy golden buzzer and astonishing talent.
Whoever divided up the acts for this round of the competition really blew it because they power-stacked this third round. For the first time, there are more than half a dozen acts we would have been okay seeing advance.
In fact, we're so impressed with the talent, we suspect tonight might come down more to the personal stories of hardship and struggle so many of these contestants shared. "AGT" has always been as much about the performer as the performance.
That said, we still feel pretty good about our Top 5. The only one we're not sure will connect as strongly is Malik DOPE, just because drumming is such a singular talent that is harder to judge and appreciate on such a wide scale when compared to singers, dancers and more traditional fare.
And yes, we think three singers will advance, but they all come with strong voices and even stronger stories. Nolan Neal is the weakest of the three, so it's possible he could get edged out by Alan Silva or Max Major.
Alan has another touching story, but again his is a very singular talent and act that may not resonate as widely. And so, our final prediction is going to be that our entire Top 5 goes through. Maybe the judges will have to decide between Malik and Alan at the end..
How happy will we all be?
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.