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America's Got Talent Watch - Semifinal #1

Last week, twelve acts that had fallen by the wayside, either during the quarterfinals or as far back as Vegas Week, got a second chance to impress the judges (and America). Nearly everyone stepped up their game, and this included no fewer than five acts who performed some kind of dangerous feat or impressive illusion. America decided that they couldn’t determine which of them was the best, and as a result, none of them were put through. They did, however, put through two singing acts, one comedian and one dance act.

The home stretch is in sight. Twenty-four acts remained going into this week, and looking at the lineup for this episode, I was filled with consternation. All of the acts that made it this far are deserving, don’t get me wrong… however, only six can move on to the finals (more on that in a sec), and with six of my favorites performing this week, plus at least three others that I really like, this show was stacked to the roof with talent, and I knew a lot of that talent would be going home.

This has been a great season. Only six singers are left, and that is balanced out with five dance acts, three comedians (a record), two animal acts, two magicians, two danger acts, and four “artistic” acts. I maintain that it is high time that this show crowned a non-singing act champion, but it’s so tough to root against guys like Andrew De Leon and Tim Hockenberry, you know? They’re both sweet guys, and immensely talented, and I hope they both have fabulous careers following this show. But there are about four other acts that I would like to see win more, simply because they deserve it more.

Before I get into this week’s acts, let me just say that tonight was maybe the most impressive array of talent ever put into two hours on this show, and that includes previous seasons’ finales. So when Nick announced that only three acts would be moving forward to the finale in two weeks’ time, I did a double-take. They changed the format again! For the past two seasons, the semifinals resulted in a Top Ten, which was then cut down to a finale of only four acts. Now, however, they are eliminating one show entirely and just trimming the field from twenty-four to six. Damn, that is brutal. So much incredible talent went home this week, it’s almost criminal.

Here are the twelve acts that performed on Tuesday night, in the order that they performed in:

#1. Andrew De Leon - Given his genre, there was really no other choice for Andrew but to sing “Ave Maria”. And he was absolutely brilliant. He is one of the standouts of this season, and a true underdog. But unbelievably, the judges criticized him for his lack of formal training. Plus, they also mentioned the inherent incongruity in Andrew himself, that being a beautiful soprano voice coming out of a person that looks like love child of Criss Angel and Robert Smith of The Cure. I am just so glad that this show gave him some measure of social acceptance and self-worth, and I wish him nothing but the best from here on out. (Result: eliminated)

#2. Todd Oliver - Two comedians performing tonight, and Todd was by far the inferior of the two. Yes, throwing your voice into a dog with a mechanical mouth prosthetic is a novel concept, and in better hands, could be a brilliant act. The biggest problem, however (apart from the mediocre material), is that Todd’s voice and the voice he gives to his dog Irving is pretty much the same. Terry Fator could make his dummies sound like anybody, which is why he is in a league that Todd will never reach. That being said, he ended up, incomprehensibly, getting more votes than both Andrew and Dittelman.(Result: eliminated on judges’ decision)

#3. Donovan & Rebecca - Acrobatic acts are tough sell on a show like this, because so much is lost when it transitions into people’s living rooms. What makes this act awesome is not only the immense strength they possess and the grace with which they perform their moves, but the fact that they are so obviously madly in love with each other. If they were to lead a whole troupe of acrobats on stage, that is a show I would pay to see. Unfortunately, this is as far as they go on this show. (Result: eliminated)

#4. Edon - You wouldn’t think that a barely-teenaged Jewish kid, playing a rousing piano and singing with a yarmulke on his head could command a stage, but damn, this kid has the chops. He did a great job singing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”, and in a perfect world, Edon could be the new Bieber. However, it’s Howard’s mission to not let any singing act go unrebuffed, and that ended up costing him a shot at the Finals. (Result: eliminated)

#5. The Scott Brothers - Yeah, it’s maybe the most nerdish dance ever, but I don’t care: I love a good Robot, and these two are better at it than almost anybody (Brian Gaynor and Remote Kontrol are still the champs). I can totally see them with their own stage show, but on a night like tonight, they were overmatched. Shame. (Result: eliminated)

#6. Eric Dittelman - Ditching his first name at the judges’ insistence, this amazing young man continues to amaze me with his mind-reading tricks. This time, he took a blown-up copy Howard drew of himself during his first audition, and had Howard color it in with a random assortment of markers. After he was finished, Dittelman revealed his own portrait, colored in exactly the same way. I don’t know how he does it. He is amazing, and I would put him in Vegas tomorrow. (Result: eliminated)

#7. Turf - Solo dancers probably have the hardest job of any single act on this show. Not only do they have to find ways to command a stage all by themselves, they have to constantly reinvent themselves to “keep it fresh”. Turf took the judges’ advice to do more dancing and less freakish contortions, and it was terrific, and he had fun with it too, gyrating to Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3x”. But the ceiling for this act is just not high enough to warrant a spot in the finals. You gotta love the kid’s heart, though. I think that if he were to put a crew together, he could go big time. (Result: eliminated)

#8. Bria Kelly - Bria was one of the better acts on a terrible YouTube show, and she has a phenomenal voice. She sang a countrified version of Pink’s “Perfect”, and it was great, but I think a country song would have suited her better. She’s only sixteen, and I can see some record label snatching her up, but for her to better this field would have been nearly impossible anyway. (Result: eliminated)

#9. Joe Castillo - What Joe does is basically just move sand around, but it’s how he does it that’s so captivating. Not a single motion is wasted, as he carves separate, immaculately-detailed images in the space of ninety seconds. As I imagine what he could do if he had an hour-long show, though, I have to remind myself that as gorgeous as his images are, it may just be too artsy and low-key for a Vegas Stage. Joe is the polar opposite of David Garibaldi (who we’ll see next week), who combines painting, rock-and-roll music and theatrics to create art. But art moves people in different ways, and Joe’s humble demeanor appealed to a lot of voters. (Result: through on judges’ decision)

#10. William Close - The judges have pegged William, with his handmade musical instruments, tremendous showmanship and ingenuity as the front-runner, and it’s not hard to see why: he’s leading the pack on pure spectacle alone. Apart from his signature earth-harp, he unveiled two brand new spherical drum-sets, and even clad his wife in an outfit embossed with strings, which he proceeded to play. I didn’t like his two vocalists’ rendition of Muse’s “Starlight” quite as much as “Love, Reign o’er Me” a few weeks ago, but he’s absolutely earned himself a spot in the finale. (Result: through on viewer votes)

#11. Tom Cotter - Can a comedian win this show? If it can be done, then Tom is the guy that will do it. He told Howie to pick a topic at random and then proceeded to treat me to a raucous ninety seconds of non-stop laughter. He is an effing brilliant comedian, because you just feel that his well of material is bottomless. He deserves a Comedy Central special as a reward for doing this show at the very least. (Result: through on viewer votes)

#12. Academy of Villains - Ever heard of the Jabbawockeez? They won the first season of America’s Best Dance Crew after they got CUT during Vegas Week of Season Two of AGT. The reason I mention this is because AoV is on the same level of entertaining, and I hate myself because after watching Andrew, Dittelman, Joe, William and Tom, I had no choice but to actively root against them. Damn you, show, for putting the only two good YouTube acts on this night! (Result: eliminated)

What an incredible night. One of the best this show has ever produced, and further proof of why this is the best talent show on television. In a perfect world, many of these acts would get a Vegas show, or a record deal, or a long-term contract, or a dump-truck full of money dumped on their front lawn. What an awesome finale we are going to have in two weeks.

Next week: the other twelve remaining semifinalists perform. I am expecting huge things from Olate Dogs, David Garibaldi and Light Wire Theater. But don’t count out singing sensations Sebastien or Tim Hockenberry either. See you in seven!