The auditions are over, the acts have been chosen, and finally, we get to the good part of the season, when all the acts go head-to-head for viewer votes. This week, the first 12 of the 48 acts chosen to compete (not counting the wild-card or YouTube shows) hit the stage, with varying degrees of success. Some were fantastic, others very good, and still others never had a shot at advancing anyway.
How it works is this: the top three vote-getters that perform each week automatically move on. The judges are then presented with the two acts that finished at #4 and #5 in the votes, and they decide individually which one of the two should also move on to the semis, with the majority deciding. This is definitely a stage where the lesser acts get weeded out.
Here is a brief synopsis for how it went on Tuesday night:
#1. The Miami All-Stars - This sizable troupe of ballroom dancers from the Sunshine State were dealt a blow a few hours before showtime, when it was deemed that their choice of music was inappropriate for “legal reasons”, whatever that means. They had only scant hours to choose new music and choreograph a routine for it, and they did a fantastic job. The Latin dancing they love was sexy, spicy, and a great way to start off the show.
#2. Dezmond Meeks - The male solo singer category is especially tough this year, and Dezmond was put through because of not only his voice but his showmanship. He (and his dancing girls accompaniment) strutted around nicely to “Satisfaction”, and the vocals were good, but Sharon Osbourne called the routine “cheesy” and “cruise shippy”, which is a little harsh but not entirely inaccurate. Not the worst of the night, but not really near the top either.
#3. Those Funny Little People - Some acts get put on the show for one reason only: to piss Piers Morgan off. If Piers hates them with a passion, then Howie Mandel automatically loves them, and so it goes. This group of people dressed in giant gnome costumes… I will say this. I find them funny. To go from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “It’s Raining Men” in the blink of an eye is hysterical. Piers buzzed them, and they won’t move on, but I’m glad they got their moment on a big stage.
#4. The Fearless Flores Family - This family of motorcycle daredevils, including two kids of eight and thirteen, were one of the audition favorites, so I’m surprised at their early position. Both kids and the mom rode their motorcycles around their father inside a giant metal sphere, and it was breathtaking to watch. I share Sharon’s misgivings, however, about how much more to this act there is.
#5. Squonk Opera - This act was one of ten that was allowed to bypass Vegas Week and move straight on to Hollywood, and I’m mystified as to why. Piers hates them, and it’s not hard to see why, because they are just… weird. There’s no other word for them. They combine operatic singing with performance art. I’ve looked them up, and they are apparently quite popular in their hometown of Pittsburgh, and I can definitely see how bizarro stuff like this might appeal to a section of the population, but I just don’t “get it”. The effects were cool, but the music was just a discordant mess. They got X’s from both Piers and Sharon, and I’m thankful we won’t be seeing them again.
#6. J. Chris Newberg - How pathetic is this guy? He’s a guitar-playing comedian who, before he even starts, basically begs for people to like him. His jokes aren’t funny, and when he brought out a chorus of kids, sporting drawn-on beards to match his, it just felt like pandering to me. Piers buzzed him, and I look forward to having him off my TV forever.
#7. Snap Boogie - Despite a pre-show hamstring injury, this teenage kid, along with some black-coverall-clad backup dancers, proceeded to do an amazing hip-hop routine, with enough effects and cool music to really jazz it up. Piers said it best: it’s tough for a solo dancer to build a show around himself, but Snap did it perfectly. Plus, he’s got that whole poor-kid-from-the-streets thing working for him, and he’s just so damn likeable that it’s impossible to see him not getting votes.
#8. Echo of Animal Gardens - This show is all about variety, and I’m guessing the producers told the judges that at least one animal act had to make it on the show. Echo the parrot was the right choice, and, to his and his trainer’s credit, he didn’t totally mess up like he did in Vegas. He didn’t miss any cues, and it was quite entertaining. But let’s be honest: even the most entertaining parrot in the world is not a Vegas show. I’m happy Echo got his moment in the spotlight, but that moment’s over now.
#9. The Fiddleheads - I was actually looking forward to these guys, one of only two bands to make the cut. The way they mix bluegrass with rock and pop is quite unique. Unfortunately, they attempted to cover “Billie Jean”, and they messed it up in just about every way they could. The judges tore them apart (despite not buzzing them), criticizing their choice of song to their wardrobe. Too bad for them.
#10. Duo Aero - I really do admire the strength and technical precision it takes to be a good trapeze artist, but the thing is, how much can an aerialist really do that hasn’t been seen before. This married couple attempted to mix trapeze with jazz dancing, complete with music and costumes from someone’s 1950’s “steppin’ out” collection. It didn’t work for Piers (who buzzed them), and Sharon hated it too. There are much better danger acts than this.
#11. Anna Graceman - This 11-year-old vocal phenom chose to cover “What a Wonderful World”, a song that has been sung a million times, but somehow she managed to arrange it in a way that sounded fresh and new. She is as amazing as she is adorable, and I have a feeling that she’ll be around until the very end.
#12. Sandou Russian Bar Trio - I questioned the producers’ decision to put what I considered to be a run-of-the-mill gymnastics act in what I call the “pimp spot”… until I saw them perform. Imagine a young woman spring-boarding twenty feet in the air off of a flexible board about 4” wide, that is balanced on the shoulders of two men. Now imagine that underneath the board is a bed of razor-sharp nails… that are then set of fire. It was harrowing to watch, but also exciting and thrilling at the same time. They surprised the hell out of me. This is the textbook definition of “upping your game”.
So, based on the acts’ positions, their performances, and the judges’ comments, I expected the top three vote-getters to be Snap Boogie, Anna Graceman and Sandou Russian Bar Trio. The judges would then have to choose between Miami All Stars and the Fearless Flores Family, and ultimately, since there are fewer danger acts in the competition than there are dance acts, they will send the daredevils through.
As it turns out, I was right about the Top Three. Moving through on viewer votes were Anna Graceman, Snap Boogie and the Sandou Russian Bar Trio. I was also half-right about the Judges’ Choice: the Miami All Stars did indeed earn the #4 spot (I presume), but the #5 spot went instead to The Fiddleheads, which really surprised me, because they weren’t that good. But because of their so-so performance, it made the judges’ choice really easy, since they were over the moon about the Miami All Stars in the first place. Too bad for the Flores Family. Oh well, I’m sure they could get work at any State Fair in the country now.
Next week: Twelve more acts compete for a spot in the semis, and they are: Attack Dance Crew, Dani Shay, Daniel Joseph Baker, Dylan Andre, Geechy Guy, Landon Swank, Mona Lisa, The Rhinestone Ropers, The Silhouettes, Smage Brothers Riding Shows, Steven Retchless, and Thomas John.