One previously eliminated act returns to the competition and makes the most of their second chance.
Once again, spoken word poetry hit the “America’s Got Talent” stage and once again it brought a powerful silence to the room.
Brandon Leake broke new ground for “AGT” with his first performance, earning Howie Mandel’s golden buzzer. This time around, the world has changed as the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to light a truth long ignored.
With his platform, and as a young Black father in America, Brandon did not let this moment pass, and in doing so he created one of those capital-M "Moments" that won’t soon be forgotten by anyone who watched it.
Beyond him, we saw one act return to the competition after being cut in the Judge Round because another act that did advance opted to drop out of the competition. They made the most of their second chance on a night that was filled with many acts who did not.
Not as strong overall as last week, there were nevertheless a few acts that stand as high as any in this competition this season or any that has come before. But will they make it to the semi-finals, kicking off next week?
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).
(dancer) The creativity is there in vision, but we’re not sure this was much different than the marionette. Other than the SFX, we didn’t see the claw machine angle much at all. As a visual artist, Noah is interesting, but as a dancer he didn’t step this up at all. We worried he didn’t have the depth and range to make it in this show as a dancer yet when he first performed, and this backs up that concern. He should keep honing his craft, but he’s not there yet.
Divas & Drummers of Compton
(drum line) The spectacle that this can be was lost and we think that’s because the visual presentation is not designed for a camera up in their faces. This is about large pictures and movement, and the production lost that. In this format, we feel what makes them special didn’t really come through at all. It’s a huge disappointment, but that’s not the kind of routine (as we saw it) that advances.
(cheerleaders) This had some really strong moments, but it never really stepped up to that next level that we were hoping for. The problem is that we’ve seen cheer acts push themselves harder and further than this group did here. There are bigger flips, throws and stunts available. Plus, some of their synchronicity was off and it felt like way too many tumbling passes. Cheerleading is definitely a sport, and these are world-class athletes, but their routine didn’t rise up to this stage.
(singer) The open-arm stance was silly, but in all the ways Kenadi still needs to work on her showmanship, she’s already got it in spades vocally and musically. This was a song Kenadi wrote for her little sister, and while it has a sweet innocence to it, it also tugs the heartstrings in the way the best country ballads can. Honestly, if she’s here at this age, Kenadi has all the tools to take Nashville by storm.
(acrobats) With poorer lighting and more time, the girls somehow managed to not up their game for this round. The stunts looked repetitive and less dangerous or awe-inspiring than the first time. Perhaps the knee injury held them back, but it might also hold people back from voting for them.
(singer) She just makes it look effortless. We weren’t in love with this song choice for this stage of the competition, but Celina still managed to stand out with confidence, vocal control, a big range and a sincerity that came through. We just hope it was memorable enough, as it got a little repetitive and a little boring toward the end.,
(puppeteers) Howie had hated every act to this point (or at least something about them), but this one certainly had its heart in the right place. The story was a little obvious, but there was still a sweetness to it. We did love that it was about human connection rather than romance. Touching on Covid life was smart, but it was also a bit over the top and didn’t really up the ante.
(insult comic) If we were wondering how Alex could up the ante, he just showed us and it was a brilliant evolution. Storybook roasts that were mostly harmless -- though Sofia took a brutal verbal beating -- and didn’t all land with equal fire, Alex proved there is life and charm in what he does, and he’s getting better at skirting that line. We thought this would never fly in such a sensitive era, but he kept it mostly light and mostly funny.
(singers) Teen football singer Thomas Day actually withdrew from the competition after making it here, creating an opportunity for fan-favorite country duo Broken Roots. They swung for the fences tackling U2 and it was just about a home run. The song is a huge challenge vocally, but they arranged it beautifully to suit their style. The harmonies were strong, we just wish they matched one another in literal vocal strength. This is a duo, though, that has that mysterious “it.”
(singers) Incredible vocals individually and even more incredible harmonies together. This was an incredible step up from their first time on this stage. And with one song, they made a very strong case for winning this whole show. We put it down to an incredible arrangement, soaring vocals and singing with three voices as one … to perfection.
(poet) Poetry can be powerful when written, and in the mouth of the right person it can be so much more when spoken. Brandon chose to use this platform to speak to this America at this time and it was truly the kind of “moment” shows like “AGT” dream of hosting. He brought life to his story as a Black man and his mother’s story as the scared mother of a Black man in this America. He stole not just the night, but the whole round.
After a night of too much talent this week, “AGT” definitely did not have that problem on back-to-back weeks. If anything, this was the week of meh, of acts not living up to their potential or pushing their performance to the next level.
That said, there were a few standouts, and we feel absolutely confident both Brandon Leake and Resound will carry on after an incredible evening. But that’s where our confidence falters. We think Broken Roots was strong, but enough? Certainly stronger than Kenadi Dodds, but she has the more touching story.
Bello Sisters and Lightwave Theatre Company were both better last time, but both are compelling in their own right. We tentatively think one might make it, but which depends on how sentimental America is feeling tonight.
And then there’s Alex Hooper, who really delivered tonight. The judges got it this time around, but we are in a sensitive time in America where insults, even in jest, are often not taken well and some of his barbs were sharp.
Could Celina, with a powerful-yet-unremarkable-tonight voice take his spot? Last week, you surprised me by not throwing your support to mostly singers, but that was on a night of too much talent. What happens when the opposite is true?
For our final guess (and it really is), we’re going to predict that Brandon, Resound, Broken Roots, Lightwave and Celina advance.
We’ll find out what you did as “America’s Got Talent” continues Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.