Big Barry performs on "America's Got Talent." (Virginia Sherwood / NBC )
No more Mr. Nice Judge. Last week on "America's Got Talent," as the live shows kicked off, new judge Howard Stern proved two things: 1) He can still be combative and even cruel when he wants to be. 2) He is a very good arbiter of talent and predictor of America's tastes.
Stern proved that again Tuesday night, when the show clicked into its new Tuesday/Wednesday schedule, going toe-to-toe with fellow judge Howie Mandel over a truly talent-free contestant who, just as Stern said, should never have made it through to the quarterfinals, depriving worthier contenders of a slot.
The big point of contention was Big Barry, a very small man with a very bad voice, who for some reason Mandel has insisted on championing. Despite the fact that both Stern and Sharon Osbourne had rightly hit their Xs Tuesday night for the white-suited gent's atrocious act, in which he was upstaged by a bevy of attractive models, Mandel's support didn't waver.
"Barry, I'm going to be totally honest with you. You're not a good singer. But you're an amazing character, and you've got this God-given stature and sound," Mandel said. "I think you're an incredible novelty act that people would come and see and pay for."
Irritated, Osbourne reached over and hit Mandel's buzzer. But Stern took it further.
"You know … the Howie filibuster is getting annoying to me, actually," the man who calls himself "America's judge" said, shutting down Mandel with his hand. "I gotta tell you, Big Barry, this isn't about you. This is about Howie and how he treats the show."
Stern then turned to Mandel and, pointing, said, "This is about the apology you owe to FloJo's daughter, to Andrew De Leon, to all the people that could have gotten through instead of Big Barry. You ruined their chance by doing this. It's your responsibility. There was nothing funny about it."
The shock jock then shocked by apologizing to the contestant he was "a little rough on" on last week's show. But he was unapologetic on this issue. "Barry, no offense to you. But you're not fun, you're not funny, and you're not talented … a big waste of time."
Osbourne finally took control, telling her feuding fellow judges to behave. Then she told Barry, "You sing like you're on the toilet. You strain very much."
Stern laughed, then got in one last dig at Mandel for disrespecting the other talent by putting bad acts through.
Stern was entirely right, of course. And he probably would have been just as spot-on this week as he was last had he listed the four acts -- of the 12 that performed Tuesday -- who should and would likely make it through to the semifinals. He had, presumably, been told by producers not to do that. So I'll share my picks:
TURF: The contortionist dancer with the interesting hair and charming humility who glided across the floor and twisted his arms into pretzels in order to win our love. Which he did.
Donovan & Rebecca: This husband-and-wife team is so strong, so brave, so flexible and so beautifully coordinated. As the judges have noted, unlike so many acts, they display different talents every time. This time, they did a breathtaking aerial act.
Tom Cotter: The comedian started off slowly but got up to speed quickly, then kept the rapid-fire jokes coming, bringing us several real laughs in only 90 seconds. That's impressive.
And then, honestly, I think it's a tossup between two singers for that final slot:
Danielle Stallings: This 14-year-old girl got my attention for the first time with her note-perfect vocal ease and power.
Tim Hockenberry: He's been terrific on the "AGT" stage before, and Mandel and Osbourne loved his take on Katy Perry's "Part of Me." But I'm with Stern on this performance: It wasn't Hockenberry's best, a misfit song choice. A fan favorite, he might make it through anyway and have a chance to return to form.
Who knows how America will vote, of course. But if four of those five deserving acts make it through, that would be bad news for the other seven quarterfinalists who performed this week: martial arts dance troupe LionDanceMe; mediocre rock group the All Ways (never a good sign when a band shares a name with a pantyliner, Mandel pointed out); Hawley Magic, who did a startling stunt illusion but cheesily; the Lisa Clark Dancers, whose retro choreography didn't go over well; the creepy and confounding Aurora Light Painters; worthy yet tired crossbow act Ben Blaque; and … um … oh, yes, Big Barry. Enough said about him.
Who do you think should make it through?
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