"America's Got Talent"kicked off its last batch of quarterfinal performances Tuesday night with what sounded like the usual preshow hyperbole.
"I believe this could be our best show yet," Howard Stern said.
"This lineup is stronger than any lineup before," Howie Mandel noted.
"Every single act is a winner," Sharon Osbourne agreed.
Turned out, the judges weren't exaggerating. Nor were they whistling Dixie when they said, again and again, what tough luck it was for the acts who performed this week because they were competing in such a stellar mix of contestants. Or when Stern wondered, seriously, what the show's producers had been thinking by piling so many terrific contenders on top of one another on a single night.
No matter how the performances shook out, only four of the 12 acts would go through. And while it was hard to find four worthy acts in last week's crowd, this week, no matter how you slice it, we'll see some terrific talents sent home.
The night's very best included …
Joe Castillo, the beret-wearing artist who tells meaningful stories and makes beautiful pictures using sand and light. This time he managed to convey, in 90 seconds, that we were destroying our planet's wildlife (and making God cry). He also moved the judges nearly to tears. "You really touched my heart tonight," Osbourne said, calling the performance "beautiful," "moving" and "beautifully executed."
William Close, who brought back his "earth harp" and also brought along a vocalist to sing the Who's "Love, Reign o'er Me." It was remarkable, as were the judges' responses. "We're done. I think you won this whole contest," Mandel said. Osbourne told Close, "You are over and above anything I have ever seen on this stage … I bow down to you." Stern said discovering a performer like Close, whom he called "unbeatable," is why he joined "America's Got Talent." He said all three of the judges would be willing to put up the money to produce a show by Close. Mandel and Osbourne both held up their hands in support. Wow.
Unity in Motion: On a night with several good dance acts, Unity in Motion was probably my favorite. Stern apparently agreed, saying, "These young girls are the best dance act we have."
Lindsey Norton: Another deserving judge fave, this giddily enthusiastic, gymnastic teenage solo dancer says she's been inspired by Cirque du Soleil. If she doesn't make it through to the next round on "America's Got Talent," perhaps the Cirque casting folks will come calling.
Olate Dogs: This canine act really puts the dancing dog that won "Britain's Got Talent" this past season to shame. Dogs that do backflips and walk each other like wheelbarrows across the stage? Incredible! Mandel said that, of all the dog acts he'd seen over the years, he had never seen this level of skill and that it reminded him of the wonder he felt as a kid watching "The Ed Sullivan Show." Stern revealed that his own dog recently died, and expressed similar admiration. Osbourne? She threatened dognapping. "You guys deserve a place," Stern said.
And so they do. But on any other night (and perhaps even on this night), so would male clog-dancing group All That!, mind reader Eric Dittelman and 10-year-old mariachi singer Sebastien "El Charro de Oro." And don't shot-out-of-a-cannon (but not out of Nick Cannon) David "The Bullet" Smith and the bloodied nut-shot king Horse deserve something for their pain and troubles? And can't you see music duo Eric and Olivia selling a bunch of records, with her Adele-like tone and all?
Really, the night's only truly weak link was the universally X'ed singer Ulysses, minty-fresh leisure suit and newly shorn locks notwithstanding.