Cristin Sandu performs on "America's Got Talent." (Virginia Sherwood / NBC )
"The wild-card show is all about redemption," Howie Mandel told us at the outset of Tuesday night's "America's Got Talent." And most of the 12 acts brought back by Mandel and fellow judges Sharon Osbourne and Howard Stern (each got four picks) did manage to return from elimination to redeem themselves, dutifully heeding Stern's stern advice: "Don't blow it."
Of course, only four acts will make it through to the semifinals, and on an evening that was solid if not quite as "spectacular" as the judges kept telling us it was, it's not crystal clear which performers will advance. But if there were no obvious winners, it was only because there were so few apparent losers.
The 12 returning acts were …
Spencer Horsman (Stern's pick): This young escape artist pulled off a stunt in which he picked a slew of locks while standing in a see-through tube filling fast with wet cement, emerging to a standing ovation from all three judges. Horsman said it was the most dangerous act he'd ever attempted, though it seemed to me he could have been rescued easily enough had something gone wrong. Still, the judges hailed him for delivering on the danger. "That's what you gotta do, you gotta almost kill [yourself]," Stern told Horsman, adding that if the young performer had actually offed himself, he'd have nabbed the million-dollar prize for sure.
All That! (Osbourne's pick): These buff male cloggers clogged things up with their dullest performance of the season. Osbourne was impressed that they'd halfheartedly taken her advice about performing shirtless and oiled up by ripping one dancer's shirt off at the last minute. But rippled muscles will get you only so far, and probably not all the way to the semifinals. "People will fast-forward through that because they will get bored," Stern said.
Jarrett & Raja (Mandel's pick): One of these sometimes-cheesy magicians was made to "disappear" while playing a grand piano and reappear playing it elsewhere in the theater. A longish pause mid-trick gave audiences at home plenty of time to imagine the piano being rolled out the back way and the performer running to his new spot, but the judges were impressed. Mandel and Osbourne both called the trick "spectacular," and even Stern dubbed it "magnificent." Guess you had to be there.
Jake Wesley Rogers (Osbourne's pick): This 15-year-old singer dressed like Buddy Holly and tackled Lady Gaga. But if he is, in fact, on the edge of glory, it's not going to be this performance that tips him over into it. Osbourne gushed that she was "proud" of him, but Stern said Rogers failed to connect with his audience.
Cristin Sandu (Mandel's pick): Remember how this junk-pile balancer dramatically fell the last time he performed? Well, he did it again. And again the judges fell all over themselves to try to make him feel better. Stern called Sandu's act "exciting as hell" and said he should be "very proud" of himself. Sweet, but it's difficult to believe the voting will tilt Sandu's way.
Todd Oliver (Stern's pick): This ventriloquist/comedian/dog act clearly took Stern's advice and honed his routine with more topical – and edgier and funnier – material. The concept was that Oliver's dog, Irving, was running for president. "You can vote for the black guy or you can vote for the white guy, but if you vote for me, you get both," the black-and-white dog quipped. Did he have a first lady? "I'm sniffing around," he said. Obamacare or Romneycare? "I don't care." Stern called the act "spot on."
Bandbaz Brothers (Osbourne's pick): This head-to-head balancing duo, who specialize in shakiness, attempted a stunt one of them said had killed his "grandfather's cousin." The stunt went fine, but the strangely abrupt ending – and the fact that the whole act was just one trick – rather put me off. The judges, however, were more than satisfied. "Breathtaking … superb," Osbourne enthused.
Sebastien El Charo de Oro (Mandel's pick): This cute mariachi-singing 10-year-old took a risk by swapping the Spanish love songs for Frank Sinatra, and it didn't totally pay off. "Singing in English pointed out the weaknesses in your voice," Stern said, noting that young Sebastien was "a little flat" in his middle range. The best moment, though, was when this preternaturally mature, confident kid was practically moved to tears because his trip back to compete on the show had cost him the chance to celebrate his kid brother's birthday. Adorable.
Horse (Stern's pick): This undie-wearing, much-abused act's performance was a bit messy — Osbourne said it looked like drunk guys making a video in their backyard — but no one makes a pained face like this guy. That, along with seeing Stern gleefully shooting tennis balls at 90 mph from a bazooka at this poor man's tighty-whiteys — justified his trip back to the stage. Now, however, I'm ready for Horse to gallop out of the competition.