The America's Got Talent
season 12 auditions roll on. After a decent premiere highlighted by a 12-year-old girl who is a tiny female version of the show's most notable winner, the talent got brought in the second episode.
It will be tough to top in the third go-round, as no fewer than six acts with a legitimate shot of making the Top 10 graced the stage last time. It was punctuated by golden buzzer recipient Mandy Harvey, who made America scream despite her inability to hear it. Her inspiring and tragic tale warmed the collective whole of viewers' hearts, and the outpouring of support was matched only by the talent that accompanied it.
There was also a young vocalist who had a kidney transplant, a witty British-sounding mentalist, some wacky six-packed brother-and-sister roller skating acrobats, your kids' favorite science teacher, aerialists on a rocking wooden platform and a singer/songwriter kid doing his best cool guy Mayer/Mraz impersonation.
And who could forget the flamboyant "Barbie Girl" dancers, the guy whose brother tried to decapitate him with a shovel and the dog that can bark exactly 400 times on command? Who wouldn't want more of that?
Still, if this is indeed to be a repeat of the year of the singer, it's certainly the year of the singer with the insanely traumatic backstory. More on that later, but first it's time to identify the studs and duds of the third episode. Let's get to it.
Elena is an American acrobat who talks like a drunk Kellie Pickler, and her Ukrainian husband, Sasha, balances her on his face (aka "pole perch"). He straps a giant pole to his midsection, and she scurries to the top and swings around on a harness. Then this nutjob balances the pole on his forehead and lets go, while she does handstands and leg grabs at the top. Simon echoes my Pickler reference by calling Elena "nicely stupid."
Shemika Charles comes from a long line of limbo dancers, and she's half-contortionist, half-uncontested winner at the five-star resort Luau. She slides under a foot-tall lawn ornament while balancing a baton on her nose, and then caps it off by limbo-ing under a freaking car. She's a real-life Matrix CGI animation.
Next up is someone who will give Mandy Harvey a run for her money in the "oh my god, is this real life?" department. Kechi was one of two survivors in a plane crash in Nigeria that killed 107 people, and she bears the scars of surviving an incident that left her burned from head to toe and required 100-plus surgeries and procedures.
She has a huge voice, and while Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" is absolutely not the best showcase for it, there's no criticizing this one. The talent is there, as well as ample room for an improved performance with a better song choice. Simon again echoes my sentiment by saying that with more confidence, Kechi will have more to offer than she can imagine.
Les French Twins is a magic act, but it starts off with only one dude on stage talking about how his parents hate his routine and want him to be a stupid doctor or something. Then he starts interacting with a giant projection screen and -- boom -- there's two of them.
Tony and Jordan toss various objects onto the projection and pull others out of it, all in the name of protecting a damsel in distress from a rainstorm. They eventually yank her from the screen, only to reveal that she too has a twin. Talk about a match made in heaven! Simon is momentarily speechless before dubbing it "100% a Vegas act."
We salute you, military men, as In the Stairwell is an a capella group whose members are all in the US Air Force Academy. They sing One Direction's "Drag Me Down," and while they're no Treblemakers, they get a standing ovation despite Howie's X. He thanks them for their service, but he was bored. Simon later concedes that they have work to do, but he believes America will like these guys and tells Howie, "I could make them good."
AGT goes to the dogs, thanks to the Pompeyo Family and their lion-shaved poodles. They're Olate Dogs 2.0, and despite the impressive array of tricks, there's nothing new. The pooches are obviously cute, but we need to see at least one original move.
Capping off the show is 16-year-old singer Christian Guardino, who went blind as a young child and only regained his sight at age 12 thanks to a new procedure. He's the Long Island version of Manny from Modern Family," and I initially don't think I'm going to be a fan. But to quote Simon, I don't like him; I love him.
The nervous teen stammers through his intro before unleashing the purest voice of the season thus far, absolutely crushing The Jackson 5's "Who's Lovin' You." He's the rare AGT singer who would have a legitimate shot on American Idol, and he passes the goosebump test and is reduced to tears when he earns Howie's golden buzzer.
The craziest part is there's room for improvement that will come with more polish and less anxiety, and we've got yet another contender ... who is a singer ... with an emotional backstory.
Benchavon Shale, aka Big Benji, has apparently been trying for years to get on AGT because she loves Simon Cowell and dreams of giving him hugs and kisses. It seems unlikely since it's only his second season, but still, she's here to spread her message of love to the entire world. She's upbeat and energetic, and Simon promises her a snog if she does well. She does not.
Simon still rewards her efforts (her husband scores a smooch from Heidi), and it kicks off a montage of talentless older women who all love Simon. It includes a weird lady dressed as Wonder Woman and a group of patriotic choreographed clappers/leg kickers whose spread-eagle bloomers are censored with giant Simon heads.
It also appears that someone in this collection of undeserving performers -- an elderly burlesque dancer -- may have advanced despite an X from Mel B.
Valet attendant Wyatt Gray is not a comedian. He is a nervous hotel employee who loses whatever cool he had when his first joke fails. It's uncomfortable crickets from there, and he doesn't even give himself a chance to win back the audience. Loosen up, buddy. The material wasn't absolutely terrible with a proper delivery. Just, you know, mostly terrible.
Oscar Hernandez is a child of divorce who was raised by his grandmother. She was a performer, and he caught the bug despite his dad's urging that a guy his size play sports. You assume he's a singer, but he's actually kicking his dance moves to "Baby Got Back." He moves well and the splits are impressive, but c'mon, this is not a million-dollar act. He's like the glittery roller skating guy without the skates. Still, Simon calls him "amazing."
Manly-yet-somehow-baby-faced 23-year-old Daniel Ferguson is a sales rep for radio stations in mid-Ohio, and he bills himself as a singer before launching into DNCE's "Cake By the Ocean" with a variety of cartoon impressions.
The verses and chorus are sung by Goofy, Scooby Doo, Kermit the Frog, Peter Griffin and Simon Cowell before capping off the performance with his best Mickey Mouse. I guess it's entertaining? Look, it's cute and goofier than the lead vocalist, but let's not go overboard. He's no Tape Face.
Speaking of guys who aren't Tape Face, Dancing Pumpkin Man wears a black unitard and a pumpkin mask. His real name is Jeff, he's 42 and he's married with two kids and a dog named Calvin. His goal is to spread joy through dance and take a place at the forefront of the new avant-garde. And I was wrong before -- this man is Juan Carlos without the skates.
Simon buzzes him, but Mel B. is a huge fan and lobbies Heidi and Simon until the latter changes his vote because his 3-year-old son would probably enjoy it. Maybe I'm in a bad mood, but I'm not finding the nonsense funny. Am I a sourpuss? Oh, wait, no, this is just stupid.
That's a wrap for the third installment, and I'm never one to say this, but season 12 may be shaping up to be the best yet. Singers with tragic backstories have always been a thing, but this year the talent seemingly surpasses the emotional quotient.
The current crop would make it far without tugging at the heartstrings, but hey, every little bit helps, and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Who were your favorites and who do you see advancing the furthest out of this bunch? How does Christian Guardino match up against his "overcoming obstacles" counterparts and do you believe he's the best vocalist of the bunch? Finally, were you on board with the absurdity? Should David F.U. Pumpkins really be moving on or am I the Grinch who took over for Simon Cowell once he turned into a big softy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)