"America's Got Talent" went live Tuesday evening with the second round of the Semifinals (the Top 24), where twelve hopefuls hit the stage one-by-one in an effort to win six spots in the Season 9 Finals, which begin next Tuesday. The acts chosen -- and revealed Wednesday night on the results show -- will join the six chosen last Wednesday night. The Top 12 will then vye for that million-dollar contract and Las Vegas headline. So, who would rise to the occasion? Who would let their nerves get the better of them? Who would make a strategic mistake?
Bill King at Buddy TV recapped the night's performances, which were broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, on Sept. 2, noting that, in theory at least, the Finals could consist of nothing but singers/music acts and magic acts. What? Really? A quick check and, sure enough, the first six through consisted of four singers/music acts (Miguel Dakota, Sons of Serendip, Emily West, and Mara Justine) and two magic acts (Mike Super and David & Leeman). With six more up for the final slots, a clean sweep could very well see that Top 12 music/magic finale. Not very diverse, but it would certainly be interesting...
Anyway, the night begins and ends with a music act. Unfortunately for Jonah Smith, he and his band got the dead man's spot: first act on stage. But fortunately for Jonah Smith, he's a seasoned and talented performer. He had everyone rocking to an old twist on a new song, OneRepublic's "Love Runs Out." Well, everyone except Judge Howard Stern, who said he liked it but it wasn't a show closer (and to win, Howard said, he had to do a show closer each time). The other judges love it, and Judge Mel B noted that he wasn't closing the show; he was opening.
Quintavius Johnson rocked the house to close down the show with his rendition of Etta James' classic "I'd Rather Go Blind." It's really a little too old for him (Quintavius is only 12), but that doesn't stop him from singing it like a pro. Although he appeared to start off a little slow, about 20 seconds in he was hitting his vocal stride. The judges loved him.
Jaycob Curlee said in the run-up clip that he now felt he had the confidence to put his past behind him (remember: He and his sister were adopted when he was eight years old; his life prior to that had been full of loneliness and hopelessness). But one would have to submit that part of what makes Jaycob Curlee such a unique and personable singer is that past that help mold him into who he is (although nobody can fault him for wanting to consciously forget as much of that dark past as possible). He performed a soft rendition of Elton John's "Your Song." A quick camera shot of his adoptive mother in the audience shows her bawling. Judge Howie Mandel told him that it wasn't about his story anymore; it was about him as an artist. He slyly did not make a judgment, saying that America would decide. Judge Howard said it was Jaycob's personal best while Heidi said she liked it but he lacked stage presence. Mel B thought it was a risky song choice.
But if there was one individual that all but ensured there would be no clean sweep and an all magic/music finale, it was Kelli Glover. She said she was going to own the stage and not let her nerves get the better of her (like during her last performance). And she might have done so with a better song choice, but she performed Beyonce's "Love On Top" and she just didn't quite master it. Her vocals were literally all over the place. It was Mara Justine 2.0 -- yes, it was that bad. And Judge Mel B let her have, telling her she was so disappointed in someone with such a big voice letting the stage get the better of her.
Still, if one singer was to fall, the music act of Emil & Dariel, the rocking cellists could take their place. Backed by a band again, the teen duo (they're 14 and 16) hit the stage and nailed Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" (the James Bond theme). Judge Howie said he loved it but he kept looking for Paul to step out and sing. Judge Heidi said Paul and Axl Rose would both be proud of the boys. Judge Howard said they should think about actually bringing out a singer the next time. Judge Heidi suggested their grandfather, if not to sing then to play alongside, but the boys explained that their grandfather, who taught them everything they know about the cello, had been unable to play since having heart surgery but lived his dream through them.
As for the magic acts, there was Mat Franco and Smoothini, both close-up magicians. Both acts were a bit frenetic at times, but both gentleman are masters at sleight-of-hand. If one trick was better than the other, Mat Franco's illusion of dropping Mel B's phone in her drink, then later retrieving it from inside a chair in the audience was a bit more elaborate than Smoothini's, which consists of several illusions done with a ring and host Nick Cannon's shoelace. By the end of the trick, and after he got both Judges Heidi Klum and Mel B to pull on opposite sides of a string upon which the ring magically appeared, he made the ring appear one more time. But when the hand opened and revealed no ring on the shoelace, Smoothini said he hadn't said what shoelace it would be on. He placed his foot on the judges' table and there it was -- on his shoelace. The judges rained praise, except for Judge Howard (did anyone else notice that Howard only complimented a very few acts with qualification?), who said the act still appeared a bit small.
Baila Conmigo was second to the stage but their energy -- they're a few-dozen-person salsa dance troupe -- is electrifying. Judge Howie said that the children were "spectacular" but wondered if the adults were bringing them down a bit. Judge Howard told them they should do more solos and let the kids lead the way, because Howie was right, the adults were slowing down the momentum provided by the kids (adding that if they wanted to win, they had to think strategically and highlight the kids).
AcroArmy was simply a whirling, twirling, flipping, dancing, bouncing bunch of guys and girls. Their aerial tricks and acrobatics were amazingly well-choreographed. The judges were all on their feet by the performance's end. Yes, it was that good.
The shadow dancing act of Blue Journey had set a creativity bar for themselves during their last performance. And they exceeded it Tuesday night. For their Semifinals performance, the dance duo started off with the young woman dancing alone in the room with her shadow, which suddenly stopped following her. Then it shrank and ran across the room, jumped on a chair into a picture on the wall. The little silhouette stepped out onto the ledge overlooking a watery expanse in the wall hanging and the woman pulled the corner of the picture down, spilling the water onto the stage. (It was so obviously Dali-esque that Judge Heidi made reference to the great Salvador Dali (see the painting: The Persistence of Memory).) Then the male dance half of the duo hit the stage, which had become water and the two dance/splashed their way to the end (where they guy ended up on the ledge in the photo again. Surreally brilliant, all the judges were on their feet in praise (with Howard tossing the only hitch -- it being risky doing such a slow song).
The biggest disappointment of the night? Christian Stoinev and his tiny chihuahua, Scooby. Stoinev did two handstand tricks, while Scooby rolled out in a tiny fighter jet, all to the tune of Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" (a "Top Gun" theme, as it were). But at the end, Scooby refuses to go into a box, gets back in the plane and Christian, having spent too much time around the magicians, revealed a second dog in the box. When asked its name, he said it was Scooby Too (oh, the pun-ishment). A grouch most of the night, Judge Howard told him he seemed to be growing complacent and was relying too much on the dog(s). Judge Mel B said she wanted more from him for his Semifinals act. Both Heidi and Howie said they liked it, but, really, for a frontrunner, the last third of the act was a bit of letdown.
The only callback of the night was Judge Howard Stern's Wild Card, comedian Wendy Leibman. She had been strong during her Quarterfinals performance, so it had been a bit of a surprise that she didn't finish at least within voting range of the top five acts. Still, in the end it didn't matter. She had made it to the Semifinals and, like the pro she is, she delivered a good set of jokes. All the judges were in agreement that she's funny and both Howard and Howie began haranguing America to vote her into the Finals.
But will she get there? In fact, who seemed the strongest of the twelves Semifinalists? Who probably won't make it?
Of them all, Kelli Glover and Christian Stoinev seemed to have blown their chances. Of the rest, Blue Journey, AcroArmy, Quintavious Johnson, and Emil & Dariel are locks for the Finals. The voting will likely come down Baile Conmigo, Jaycob Curlee, and Mat Franco. Or perhaps Jonah Smith will be in the bunch. If so, Baile Conmigo might not make the cut. Regardless Jaycob, if he isn't in the first four named, will get the popular vote for the Snapple Save. And if the last two acts include Mat Franco, he's going through. (In fact, Mat just might make the top four and not have to worry about the voting, which might leave three music acts vying for votes.) Regardless, speculate all we want, Nick Cannon will let us know during the eliminations results show on Wednesday night.
"America's Got Talent" airs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (EST) on NBC Television.