After the rip-roaring, talent-packed first set of the "America's Got Talent" semifinals last week, you might have expected this week's follow-up – the final 12 contenders for next week's finals -- to feel like the dregs. But I'll be darned if this second batch wasn't as just good -- in some cases, perhaps better – than last week's.
At one point, Howie Mandel was moved to exclaim, "This show is exploding!" and then to declare, "This is the best semifinals ever in the history of 'America's Got Talent.'"
Which is not to say there weren't a few relative clunkers. Here's how the acts, only three of which will go through (on Thursday at 8 p.m. -- note the new night and time), broke down:
All That! These buff cloggers took the judges' advice, showcasing one talented performer, showing up in leather pants, and showing off a stunt in which they set their dancing feet aflame and then doused them in water. It was certainly elemental, but was it enough? Not all that likely. Mandel may have gone too far by joking that the group was "flaming," but when he called them "one-dimensional," he had a point.
Sebastien "El Charro De Oro": This adorable 10-year-old mariachi singer may be a "Mexican superman" as a showman, and he can hit a heck of a power note. However, as Howard Stern pointed out, his voice can get a bit tonally shaky in the middle range. Still, he inspired Mandel and Sharon Osbourne to clamber to their feet. We'll see if voters found him similarly inspiring.
The Magic of Puck: After an impressive yet small handkerchief trick during the YouTube rounds, this magician and family man was told he had to do something bigger in order to move on. So he started with a hanky, and then raised the stakes and the roof by raising his comely assistant in the air and then making her disappear and reappear somewhere altogether different. "Flawless, absolutely flawless," Osbourne said.
Clint Carvalho and His Extreme Parrot: Carvalho's parrot Kitty, apparently one of many trained feathered friends in his flock, may be the hardest-working bird in showbiz. In order to prove she wasn't a "one-trick pony," Carvalho had the poor dear doing everything from mailing letters to jumping through hoops to nearly pecking out Osbourne's eye for a sip of soda pop. Still, it's hard to imagine she will wing her way past this round. Now we know a sure way to get under Howard Stern's skin, though: Chant "Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" and watch him squirm.
Jacob Williams: Williams' awkward-geek shtick is only as good as his material, and the jokes he awkwardly muttered this round just weren't that funny. "Tonight, you stumbled," Stern told him. Oh, well. Williams probably has enough exposure from making it this far to put off getting a day job just a little longer. Quick, someone, send this guy a script for that sitcom the judges keep saying he's ripe for.
Shanice and Maurice Hayes: Why Maurice, the father in this daddy-daughter singing duo, refuses to back off a bit and let his daughter's considerable talent shine is as mystifying to me as it apparently is to the judges. Still, it's starting to seem like either stubbornness or hubris, and I don't think old Maurice will get another chance to prove us wrong.
All Wheel Sports: This act, which Mandel described as "Cirque du Soleil meets the X Games," may be dazzling in person, but on TV, the thrill doesn't quite come through. As Stern pointed out, it lacked an "oh, wow" moment. And as he also noted, when the most exciting thing about your act is that someone wiped out, that's not a good thing.
Tim Hockenberry: Hockenberry's simple, poignant, gritty-voiced rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" brought Stern to his feet and prompted Osbourne to declare that she'd "thoroughly enjoyed it." Mandel thought Hockenberry's act lacked originality. We'll see if the voters sing a different tune.
The Untouchables: These child dancers may be the hardest-working, most talented act on the show this season. Also, arguably, the cutest. This tango had it all – intensity, precision, beauty, grace and gasp-inducing costume change. If America doesn't put that adorable crying 8-year-old girl and her dedicated pals through to the finals, honestly, I might just break down in tears myself.
Olate Dogs: This dog act to end all dog acts included not only its trademark backflipping pooch, a conga line of dancing dogs and dogs riding a scooter, it also introduced a new canine cutie named Bella who did a tumbling act with her human trainers. How'd they do it? One of the trainers said they'd been "working like dogs." Ha.
Lightwire Theater: I don't know. This neon dance act doesn't do it for me. Not enough action, not enough originality. The judges, though, love it. Mandel said they deserved to be a headline act in Vegas and claim the $1-million prize money. Stern said they had originality "in spades." Did he not watch Team iLuminate light up the stage so much better last year?
David Garibaldi & his CMYKs: This team of street artists turned stage performers cranked it up with more dancers and several panels, but they seem to have lost some urgency and precision in the process. (I've never known the Statue of Liberty to smirk quite like that.) Stern is right to warn them that they have to watch their pace if they make it through to the finals.
I have no idea which acts America will vote for, though though my favorites of the night were Tim Hockenberry, the Untouchables and Olate Dogs, with the Magic of Puck and David Garibaldi meriting honorable mentions. Who would you like to see advance to the finals?
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