The semifinal round of America's Got Talent
season 12 is finally here, meaning we're just two weeks away from crowning the next
champion. One would hope that being down to the Top 21 (wildcard pending) would come with parity, but nope. There are still clear contenders and happy-to-be-heres as we enter the home stretch.
Eleven acts are set to take the stage in the quest for your votes, but whereas seven advanced from each of the three quarterfinal shows, only five will be moving forward this time. The favorites for those five spots include four singers, a stand-up comic and half-naked siblings on roller skates -- because when you have half-naked siblings on roller skates, you vote for them.
Lineup and Projections
There are a whopping 13 singing acts in the semifinals, divided between the two shows, and the presence of so many vocalists alone is enough to stack the deck against most of them. Seven of them are about to perform, with the assumption that Chase Goehring, Darci Lynne Farmer, Johnny Manuel and Yoli Mayor are competing for three spots.
Simply by being different, Preacher Lawson and Billy and Emily England are the frontrunners for the other two slots, but it's entirely possible that one or both fall by the wayside in favor of another musical act. The odd singers out would appear to be Mike Yung, DaNell Daymon and Greater Works, and Evie Clair, whose tragic backstory is unlikely to offer a reprieve amidst so many powerhouses. The fact that she needed the Dunkin' Save also doesn't bode well for her, despite her ability to consistently pick songs well-tailored to her voice.
That leaves feel-good dog act Sara and Hero and sloppy magician Eric Jones. The former is fun but can't reach the bar set by Olate Dogs, even with the addition of Loki, while the latter was doomed by close-up cameras. Upon second viewing, Jones made at least four visible mistakes in his previous routine. They include:
--Very obviously swapping out the card Howie picked for one of his choosing
--Using magnetic poker chips to make it appear the chip passed through the glass
--Pulling a card from his pocket while Howie smeared the deck on the glass
--Showing a card with Howie's autograph printed in a different direction
It's possible he can clean things up, but once the illusion is apparent, it's difficult to recapture the magic. Still, they wouldn't be called expectations if they were set in stone. So let's see who's ready to defy the odds.
Yoli Mayor Sings First
A singer has to kick things off simply to keep the lineup diverse, and Yoli apparently drew the short straw. She'll serve as a quality benchmark, though, and she's looking to get back to the post-Tyra makeover roots she lost with the fancy hair and makeup in her previous performance.
Her stripped-down effort is a rendition of James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go," and it's not terrible, but it doesn't make me feel anything. There are some pitchy moments and others that are indiscernible (I had to wait until the chorus before I could decipher enough to Google the song), but it's fine overall. Not her best, but a decent median for the rest of the evening.
Simon declares that Yoli is back, Mel B. says, "Well done," over and over, Heidi applauds her for making people feel emotions and Howie offers a hearty "Holy moly, Yoli."
Eric Jones Looks to Make the Past Disappear
Instead of his late father, Eric's intro revolves around his adorable young son. Because magic keeps him on the road, he's missed a lot of milestones. But now Cameron will get to watch his old man perform on the big stage for the first time. And he only wants to make his boy proud.
He enters in dramatic fashion, with music and through giant doors that slide apart, then makes a $2 bill turn into four coins. He has Simon autograph a hundo, which he places on a pedestal before making the coins disappear in the judges' hands one at a time. They then reappear under the hundred (where they obviously were all along), which Eric turns back into the $2 bill.
It's better than last time, but as I've said, it's difficult to get on board once the veil has been pulled back. It goes on too long, his showmanship is so-so and some of the stuff still seems obviously explainable. But, hey, at least he made a hundred bucks.
Howie repeatedly mutters "wow," Mel believes Eric is a superhero, Heidi's mind is blown and Simon believes he's ready for the finals.
Greater Works Tackles a Giant
DaNell Daymon's backstory involves losing his faith, joining the Navy and a near suicide attempt. But something saved his life, and years later he created the choir that justified his existence and taught him why he's here on Earth. And now he wants to share that joy with the world.
They're singing Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing," a huge song with tons of potential, but the first two soloists have fine but plain voices that strip out all the emotion. They sound like teachers in a classroom, not people trying to make me feel like they don't want to miss a single thing before the world ends. The final featured singer adds some zest and spunk to the performance, but overall it's pretty forgettable.
Heidi thinks everything about this was amazing, Simon gets got every single time and calls them the light and soul of the show, Howie is a converted choir fan and Mel urges Jesus to take the wheel. Because I'm not watching the same show as any of these loons.
Preacher Lawson Tells the Truth
His intro has me laughing out loud, as he recounts being recognize in public, even by his exes. But it's too late, Sarah! I love this guy, but I hope I can follow along after his ludicrous speed during his previous set.
He jokes about being single and lowering his standards (Who needs teeth? #YouSmileWithYourHeart), then talks about his ex-girlfriend's giant forehead as the reason they couldn't have kids (he and Tyra didn't want to pass on those genes). He gets a third LOL describing his niece's mom not knowing the identity of the father (after she called him ugly), and despite losing some steam as he jumps from topic to topic seemingly at random, it's a solid set.
Simon can't understand why Preacher is booking big gigs yet, Howie predicts he's about to, Mel believes he always kills it and Heidi appreciates that Preacher slowed down a teensie bit.
Johnny Manuel Takes a Risk
He rehashes his "I had a record deal at 14" story, performing pop and hip-hop as Lil' Johnny and touring with the likes of NSYNC. He wasn't able to be himself, and now he's going to show the world who he really is by singing an original song. Will it pay off?
His voice is phenomenal, world-class even, and his ditty about "flying on faith" is good enough even if you'll never hear it on the radio after 1985. Despite some screechy off-key moments, he deserves to keep going. You know, he talks about revealing himself through music, but honestly, I'm not sure he completely knows who that is artistically.
Howie calls him one of the best technical singers he's ever heard, but the song choice might be a mistake because the diva ballad is the right lane. Mel believes he missed the journey, crescendoing too early, while Heidi feels he was over-singing even though she enjoyed the song. Simon offers Johnny his respect.
Billy and Emily England Defy Death
The siblings talk about battling nerves, especially regarding Billy taking Emily's life in his hands. Every movement has to be so precise, and the slightest mistake could be deadly. They know they need to raise the stakes, and that means the inclusion of a new move.
I actually stop typing to simply enjoy it, in part because it's entrancing and in part because I don't want to miss it if she dies. I initially think the new move is her spinning around while holding a leather strap around his neck with her teeth, but then they cap off the super fast spin with him tossing her off the freaking stage.
The judges all love it, with Simon using words like 'brave,' 'stunning' and 'terrifying.' Then Tyra cues up a replay of the judges' faces when Billy let Emily fly.
Evie Clair Sings for Family
It's a montage of childhood memories, and as her father inches closer to losing his cancer battle, AGT is the highlight of their lives. It gives him something to look forward to each week, and Evie's song this time is a celebration of her happy life, despite all the adversity.
She's back at the piano, and it's Ella Henderson's "Yours." I'm not familiar with it, but it gives me goosebumps and I actually tear up at the end. It's another spectacular song choice to match the strengths of her voice, and it might be her best performance so far. She may have earned a spot in the finals.
Simon praises her gutty performance, which was beautiful all around. Heidi appreciates how intimate and personal it was, while Mel commends her courage and confidence. There's no time for Howie.
Sara and Hero Need a Hero
Hero rescued Sara when she was at a low point, and now we get the backstory of the pooches. She found Loki in bad sorts, and now he's the most energetic and mischievous pup around. I can't knock them, but Sara needs a trick we've never seen before in order to up her game.
It's beach week at AGT, and Hero starts with CPR to revive his master before volleyball, skateboarding and frisbee. I love that she has a theme, and it definitely makes you smile, but it's mostly more flipping, spinning and jump roping. Maybe she'll be on the bubble.
The pups adorably fight over a frisbee while Simon begs America to vote, and Howie lauds her for putting this all together in the five days since her last performance. Mel is happy, and Heidi loves how fun it is. The ongoing frisbee wrestling match will help their chances of sticking around.
Chase Goehring Shows How to Do Original
Chase began his musical education with his grandpa, and recently an early visit from Simon helped quell pre-live show jitters. His next original song is about being in bad love so many times that you forget about good love.
I've obviously never heard it before, but he's so unique and such a talented songwriter that I feel like I've already downloaded his entire album. He could easily win this thing because somebody needs to fill the WGWG void after Idol went teets up.
Simon appreciates that Chase hasn't compromised himself because he's special all around. Mel loves that he takes risks while staying true to who he is, while Heidi predicts millions of girls with crushes are about to clog the phone lines. Howie calls him the love child of Ed Sheeran and Logic.
Darci Lynne for the Win
Because, holy crap, Mike Yung is getting the pimp spot. But first, Darci Lynne Farmer continues to rely on her fantastical imagination to overcome (probably imaginary) shyness. Petunia is a princess, but Oscar the mouse has trouble talking to ladies. Her new friend is Edna Doorknocker, an elderly bingo aficionado with a hankering for Simon.
It's hilariously witty banter regarding Edna's crush (and a dig at The Singing Trump!), then a rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" serenading Simon at the judges' desk. Absolutely brilliant, and it's refreshing to finally see a glimpse of true star power. If she and Chase aren't in the top five, we all did something wrong.
Simon echoes my sentiment and predicts that Darci is heading for the big time, Mel was mesmerized, Heidi is beyond impressed and Howie urges America to do her justice.
Mike Yung Caps the Show
I don't know if our resident subway singer is about to do something amazing, which is usually reserved for the final slot, or if this is simply a show of respect for a guy who has paid his dues before his expected departure. I ride the subway every day and have heard all the staples, so it's hard to imagine what could justify the pimp spot otherwise.
His performance is dedicated to her late mother, who was always there for him and a fantastic singer in her own right. She performed at the famed Apollo, but she gave it all up to be a mother. If he had one wish, it would be that Betty Yung could see him perform at the Dolby Theatre.
It's Joe Cocker's "Don't Give Up on Me," and while it's touching and heartfelt, it's definitely the above-mentioned offering of respect. I'm happy he's getting his moment, and he should be proud of everything he's accomplished. I'm sure his mom is.
Simon found it raw, real and authentic, and he will remember it because it meant something. Heidi won't give up on him, especially after he sang like that. Conversely, Mel had given up on him, but this was his best performance and she felt the emotion. Howie can't believe that only five acts are moving forward.
What Started Shaky Ended Strong
I was pessimistic after the first few performances, afraid I was never going to enthusiastically like anything again, but thankfully the first semifinal ended on a strong note. From Billy and Emily England on, my hope was restored that season 12 could end on the upswing.
There are many possibilities in terms of voting, but my early guess based on memory is Darci Lynne, Preacher Lawson, Billy and Emily, Chase Goehring and Evie Clair. Sara and Hero and Johnny Manuel should be in the mix for the save, and it's likely the end of the line for Mike Yung, Yoli Mayor, Eric Jones and Greater Works.
Eleven is about to become five, and it may actually be time to get excited.
Who were your favorites and which five acts do you predict will be headed to the finals? Who deserves a spot in the Top 10 and who may be sneaking in without earning it? Did Evie solidify her place by emerging from the shadow of her tragic backstory? Did Mike Yung pluck enough heartstrings while being placed in the most memorable position? (So many questions.) Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)