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Last week, Team iLuminate gave the kind of performance that wins a million dollars and a show in Vegas. I’m almost ready to call it now, but we’ve still got six more episodes to get through, so I’m willing to play it out. Acrobats Zuma Zuma and dance crew Fatally Unique also turned in performances good enough to make it through, and comedienne Melissa Villasenor got through on the judges’ good will.
Last year, 10-year-old operatic phenom Jackie Evancho came out of nowhere, from a YouTube audition, to within a hair’s-breadth of winning the whole damn show. After that, you’d better believe that the show’s producers are going back to the YouTube well once again. The judges, having sifted through thousands of ninety-seconds-or-less videos, have chosen twelve of their favorites to vie for four spots in the semifinals. None of these acts appeared live, none of them went to Vegas, and so no one knew anything about them going in.
Here is a synopsis of how it went on Tuesday night:
TNC Elite - Two years ago, five sisters from Utah called the Fab Five clog-danced their way right into my heart. It’s because of them that I probably like this group, which is much larger and includes dancers of both sexes, a fairer chance. They were quite good, dressed in their colorful Glee-ish outfits, they were in sync, and they were quite enjoyable. And trust me, folks, clog dancing WELL is really hard. Piers gave it a passable thumbs-up, however, and Sharon wasn’t sold on the idea of mixing clogging with contemporary music. Howie wasn’t wild about it either.
Brett Daniels - He’s an illusionist, he’s 50 years old, and if magic doesn’t work out, he looks like he could be cast in the next horrible Punisher movie. (Just sayin’.) I happened to love his video, so I was rooting for him going in. His trick tonight was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and the parts of the routine that involved having his “Marilyn” model appear and disappear were great. Unfortunately, the rest of the time he was just leading her around the stage doing little dramatic flourishes, and that caused it to drag a bit (and Piers to buzz him). This just HASN’T been the season for magicians, has it?
Gabe Rocks - I won’t waste words here, because I can’t believe that this act made the cut out of thousands. Gabe, you see, is a bulldog… that can ride a skateboard. He can also ride a hobby-horse and flush a toilet, and get this… he can fetch. What a talent for a dog to have! In all seriousness, it’s something to show off to your neighbors, but America? Not on your life. Piers buzzed him, and I wish I could have too. The one redeeming feature was when Gabe peed on a three-foot-high likeness of Piers, which I have to believe is something Howie and Sharon encouraged his owner to train Gabe to do.
Aeon - Do you know what parkour is? If you don’t, look it up, because that’s what this quintet of youngsters does. It’s usually the kind of thing that requires a lot of wide-open space and doesn’t lend itself well to a small stage. The act involved a lot of somersaults and flipping (not impressive) and one guy spinning around inside a person-sized hula hoop (not bad). The whole thing was very chaotic, with too much going on at once, and Piers buzzed them as well. Don’t blame him.
Breena Bell - Breena is an eight-year-old girl whose chosen talent is dancing and contortionism. Like many girls her age, she’s very limber, so much so that she can twist herself so that her heels can rest atop her head. She’s adorable, of course, dancing around in her little yellow tutu, and I won’t make light of her ability, but after all the little-kiddie acts we’ve already had this season, the “awww” factor is about gone for me. And for Piers, too, who used his buzzer for the fourth consecutive time. Yikes. The whole thing just screamed, “Look at ME, America!” That’s not a good thing.
Kevin Colis - Knew there had to be one solo singer on this program, and Kevin is it. From his video, I could see that he was older and more seasoned than teenagers Dylan Andre and Taylor Davis. He’s actually a few years older than last season’s winner Michael Grimm, and I was hoping he would be able to be even half as good, and he was. Half as good, that is. He wasn’t horrible, and he got one big glory note at the end, which was enough to get a good ovation. The judges loved him, which surprised me, because he’s really not that special.
Beth Ann Robinson - Beth Ann’s act is very similar to Breena’s, except that 14-year-old Beth Ann leans more heavily toward the dancing and less contortionism. Give her another three years, and she could shine on So You Think You Can Dance. Right now, she’s amazing. Doing a mix of ballet and contemporary, she totally owned the stage, which is tough for a solo dancer to do, EVER. Major props to her.
Gymkana - Lots of gymnastic-involved acts tonight! Despite not being professionals, this group of collegians have crafted a neat spectacle. Tonight they showcased their abilities by using their bodies to make symmetric shapes on a pair of twenty-foot ladders, while others did flips and somersaults around them. It was a little impressive, but there is a lot of room for an act like this to stretch itself (no pun intended).
Kalani Basketball Freestyle - Like the yo-yo, or the Frisbee, or the baton, the basketball is not really the kind of object you can build a Vegas act around unless you’re the Globetrotters. Kalani is a Hawaiian who can juggle and spin several b-balls at once, and I think you’ll agree, that’s a good halftime show but not much more. Plus, nerves got the better of him, it seemed, and a couple of dropped balls got him Piers’ fifth buzz of the night.
West Springfield Dance Team - Many dance crews try to be badass but fail. The WSDT succeeds, however, because of their edgy style, cool wardrobe and funky zombie-like contact lenses. (Think The Matrix filtered through Thriller.) They’ve got a hook that a lot of the other dance crews don’t have, and that might be enough to take them far. They need a cooler name for the group, regardless.
Matt Wilhelm - Matt got more votes/views from his video than any other YouTube act, and it’s not hard to see why. What he does is mix the bicycle stunts of last season’s Jeremy Vanschoonhoven with the glow-in-the-dark coolness of Fighting Gravity. Clad in a funky glowy outfit and spinning his bike around in the dark is a very cool effect, and it’s just the kind of thing that audiences love. My biggest question is: what ELSE can he do? It’s great the first time you see it, but there needs to be more, because when you stack Matt against Team iLuminate, it’s just no contest.
Powerhouse - Just in time for the release of the Glee 3D Concert Movie comes this act, a choir that claims to have been one of the inspirations for the hit TV show. And they were pretty good (if you’re into that sort of thing), performing a cheesy-as-all-get-out rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. It’s not something that really works for me, and Howie echoes my sentiments, giving them his only X of the night.
So, in a nutshell, it’s patently obvious that there are really no acts on the level of Jackie Evancho this season. Matt Wilhelm is really the only act I saw that has a reasonable shot at Top 10, and even that may be an uphill battle given the level of competition. I expected Matt and Beth Ann to cruise through on votes. The other two are tougher to guess, but I figured it would be Gymkana and WDST, with Powerhouse possibly sneaking in, and Kevin Colis an outside shot.
Matt Wilhelm, unsurprisingly, breezed through to the semis, as did Gymkana. I was quite shocked that Kevin Colis did too. The judges’ choice came down to a choice between graceful solo dancer Beth Ann Robinson and the edgy stylings of the West Springfield Dance Team. In the end, it was Beth Ann that moved on, winning the vote by a 2-1 margin. The good news for WDST, however, was that Sharon immediately informed them that they were her Wild Card pick, and will be performing again next week.
Next week: the Wild Card show. Twelve acts that fell by the wayside somewhere along the line this season, being given another chance to redeem past mistakes and make it to the semifinals.