America's Got Talent went live on Monday night from Newark's New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The first 12 of the 48 quarter-finalists selected during last week's Boot Camp in Las Vegas performed and only four will progress. For the first time all season, that decision has been passed on to the audience. While Howie, Howard, and Sharon can still buzz an unfavorable act, with three X's cutting the performance short on the spot, that contestant is still eligible to be voted forward by the viewers -- a detail that I'm sure triple-X-ed performer Michael Nejad is counting on.
On a side note, it was nice to see Nick Cannon's fabulous suits make a comeback. They seemed to be lacking pizzazz in Vegas, but tonight's blue silk was a thing of beauty. Whoever is in charge of dressing that man, I salute you.
Here's how last night's talent added up, in order of their appearance:
The Distinguished Men of Brass
They came out high-stepping to "Crazy in Love," which was awesome. Take it from a marching band veteran, high-stepping is hard. Their performance was solid, but they're starting to hit a similar wall as a few other acts that they shared the stage with. They do what they do well, but they appear to do the same thing every time they perform. Judge Howie Mandel liked them, but also encouraged them to move beyond the marching band/half-time routine. Stern pointed out that the big band sound might not translate well to TV audiences (it didn't) and suggested that they could combat that problem in future by giving a few guys solos.
Fourteen year-old Edon performed "Titanium," much to Sharon Osbourne's delight. She commended his song choice and pointed out that he hit every note perfectly, despite his initial concern over struggling with the high notes. Mandel got punny, commenting, "Jew are terrific" and Howard Stern hated the fog machine.
Jarrett and Raja
After a strong performance during Boot Camp, the magician/comedian duo descended back into "What are you THINKING?" territory. Admittedly though, once they stopped singing and got to the actual "magic" part of the magic act, I thought it was cool. I didn't understand why the crowd booed so hard until Sharon pointed out that the rain slicker clad lady-assistants' feet were visible beneath the towels that were supposed to magically spring to life. Howie pointed out that the audience watching at home probably didn't see the feet, one of many insightful comments to his credit Monday evening. Still, compared to the simple elegance of their Vegas Week performance (the band in a box), last night's act was awkward, convoluted, and sloppy.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Howard Stern for vocalizing what I've personally been thinking since she first tapped her way across the stage -- Lil Starr is impressive for a 6-year-old, but she just doesn't measure up to the more seasoned dancers competing in her category this season. She also performs the same routine with a slight costume change for every single audition. Stern was booed because how dare he not unconditionally shower the child with praise, but I'm going to go ahead and defend him. He wasn't needlessly harsh (I think he learned his lesson with Mir Money) but he was honest, and he offered constructive criticism. If we can't honestly evaluate cute youngsters and hold them to the same standard as the grown performers, then they shouldn't be included on the program. It's that simple. Now, to Lil Starr's credit, she took Stern's words like a total pro.
Meanwhile, Howie Mandel called her "the next Shirley Temple," because... I don't know. He made a lot of great observations on Monday night. That just wasn't one of them.
The live-dog-as-a-puppet thing has bothered me for weeks and while adding a second pup to his ventriloquist routine was impressive, it also made me a little sad for the dog. While Oliver managed to avoid being booed or buzzed, his jokes fell flat because we can only make fun of Sharon for being British, female, and married to Ozzy Osbourne so many times and I, like Sharon, burned through my tolerance for such uninspired (and awkwardly insulting) material weeks ago. All three judges commended his ventriloquist skills, but encouraged him to work on his material.
American BMX Stunt Team
As with the Distinguished Gentlemen of Brass, there was some concern from the judges that much of what made the American BMX Stunt Team impressive was lost to the TV audience. I'm inclined to agree. We were told that the condensed space on the NJPAC stage made the act more dangerous (than usual?) but on TV, without much of a scale to judge by, I just didn't feel it. They were as impressive as a BMX team ever is, which is pretty impressive, but not in a way that particularly stands out.
Jensen stepped out of her comfort zone and performed without her security blanket/ guitar. She sang a perfectly acceptable cover of Coldplay's "The Scientist" but clearly didn't know what to do with herself without her guitar. All three judges basically said the same thing in different ways. Mandel said she needed to figure out how to "capture the audience." Sharon said that she wasn't feeling the emotion in what is, honestly, a very emotional song. Howard advised her that the key to dominating in the musical category is to "memorable," which might have been helpful advise, you know, before she went on stage.
The Scott Brothers
You know, I have never been a huge Scott Brothers fan. I'm like Howard with my general apathy toward dancers in general, but I'm also with his assertion that when it comes to the Scott Brothers, they're a "memorable and unique" act. I especially loved that move when they circled their stationary hats, if only for the awesome optical illusion and the showoff factor. It is the live shows, after all, time to pull out all the stops. But was their performance a "home run?" I think it could go either way. The brothers definitely brought their A-game and are super-talented and awesome, but the dance category tends to skew high-energy and they're pretty mellow in comparison.
A.k.a. that guy with the weird garden tool instruments. His performance, a demonstration of his unique instruments to Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" fell flat with the audience and judges alike. It just wasn't that interesting, and frankly, the baseball bat/oboe sounded obnoxious. I felt bad about all the booing though. His skill -- making and playing homemade instruments constructed from such bizarre materials as a vacuum cleaner of all things, was and is pretty awesome. It's just not million-dollar-Vegas-show levels of awesome.
Oh look, yet another contestant from the dance category. 787 Crew is the highly energetic and highly emotional dance group from Puerto Rico. Their initial audition was absolutely thrilling and their Vegas audition was exciting enough that even a mid-air collision between two dancers wouldn't turn the judges away from them. However, last night's routine on the NJPAC stage was, well, routine. There wasn't a single move in their repertoire that stood-out and the judges called them on it. Howie continued his trend of being delightfully deep with his observations and openly wondered if America would vote based on their most recent performance on it's own, or if their previous exploits on the stage would earn the extra favor that they surely needed to advance to the semifinals.
Maurice and Shanice Hayes
The father/daughter singing duo sang That-Song-From-Pearl-Harbor, a.k.a. "There You'll Be." As usual, Shanice dominated because she's awesome (And oh my God, she looked mighty fine last night, did she not? Yes, she did. You rock that dress, lady.) and Maurice seemed to have upped his game, probably in response to the judges' initial luke warm response to his contribution to the act. Though make no mistake -- Shanice is definitely the one to pay attention to in their duo. She's just magical. Sharon said that despite the occasional cheesy moments, they nailed it, and her two co-judges agreed.
David Garibaldi and his CMYK
I don't know what it is about these guys. I mean, their act, when described as simply as possible, sounds about as exciting as flossing -- music plays, they dance and paint. However, Garibaldi and his CMYKs have regularly managed to hold my attention, as well as that of the judges, and they've consistently managed to take a concept that doesn't sound exciting at all and, well, make it exciting. Last night, meant rocking out to "Paint it Black" and painting Mick Jagger's portrait -- backwards. It was a neat spin on their usual formula and I can't wait to see what else they have up their collective sleeves. You know, if they get voted forward, which Howard Stern seems to think will be the case.
In fact, here are Stern's predictions for who will survive the first round of voting:
2. The Scott Brothers
3. Maurice and Sharice Hayes
4. David Garibaldi and his CMYKs
I can get behind that. However, I wouldn't count Lil Starr out just yet. America loves a cute kid.
Who are you hoping makes the cut?
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