Okay, people. Let's get one thing clear: I watch America's Got Talent
to be entertained. Sure, I expect to get a bit emotional at times and maybe even shed a tear or two (the key words being "or two").
What I don't do is tune in to full-on cry or watch my wife dissolve into Puddles' Pity Party. But holy hell, season 12 has been tough on the tissue box. I'll see your adorable girl with her mom's kidney and deaf singer, and I'll raise you a formerly blind one and a plane crash survivor. Talk about going all in.
The concept of the singer with the tragic past is nothing new to AGT, but this time around, the talent matches or exceeds the sob story. It doesn't mean we're looking at a "year of the singer" reprise, as a handful of variety acts have shone bright in the spotlight (namely the kid ventriloquist and the twin magicians). But at this point, the bawlingshop quartet certainly ranks among the most memorable.
So ... who will stand out this time?
Kicking off the show is Danell Daymon and Greater Works, a contemporary gospel choir whose 50-something members hail from all over the country, prompting them to rehearse online. It's a rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," chock full of screaming runs and frenetic gyrations. The audience loves it and the judges are inspired, but regular readers know I'm no fan of choirs. They only feature one singer vocally, despite the dozens on the stage, making it simultaneously over- and under-whelming. And, yeah, I've seen Sister Act, and it was better.
A montage includes a 10-year-old contortionist, a big guy who tosses around bowling balls and spins giant logs, a woman who flips on a wire, a ladder-climbing dog and an acrobatic strongman couple.
It culminates with Light Balance Dance Group, a bunch of Ukrainian guys who kill the lights and perform in outfits rigged with flashing neon lights. They need a crisper routine, but it's creative, original and fun. If they tighten up the moves, they could be contenders. Then in less-than-dramatic fashion, Tyra Banks hops off the stage and slams down on her golden buzzer to send them straight through to the live shows.
A so-so singer performs a mediocre original song in a fairly monotone voice, but he's cute, so Mel B. loves him.
Just Jerk is a dance crew from South Korea (no matter what the name implies) possibly performing together for the last time, as they all must return to the homeland for two years of military service. They mix rapid-fire pop-and-lock with martial arts and elaborate hand movements, and the intricacy and attention to detail stand out. Their synchronization is on point, and maybe they should try on Light Balance's flashy outfits for their next performance.
An Asian couple who loves Celine Dion has named their two young daughters Celine and Dion, the former of which is, of course, singing Celine Dion. The 9-year-old is simply adorable (with a younger sister/BFF who is somehow even cuter), but there's nothing little about her rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." She has an amazing voice, though it's a bit heavy on the vibrato on a song that's a shade too big for her.
Four cheerleader guys in suits do human pyramids, capping it with a vertical human ladder.
Tom London has been fascinated with magic since he was 3, and he's combined that with his love of technology to create something that's never been seen before. He asks the audience to pull out their phones, which he makes blink with different colors before having Simon select the owners of three of the red phones to join Tom on stage.
They guess Simon's total number one hits, Mel's album sales and the year Heidi started modeling, with Tyra multiplying the answers on her calculator. She adds her eight-digit guess for Howie's "number," and Tom jots the total down on the white board. He then reveals the same number in a pre-recorded video, before explaining that each number corresponds to the actual answers to the above questions. No one is fact checking or doing the math, but it's certainly worth a watch.
Bello Nock is a self-proclaimed comic daredevil trying to reshape the clown game. His hair is spiked up about a foot, but his routine takes place 35 feet higher atop a giant swaying pole. He does handstands and other nerve-wracking moves before sliding down face first and stopping just inches from the bottom. It's a no from Simon, who could only imagine enjoying this if he were 2, but the seventh-generation entertainer convinces him to deliver a fourth yes with a promise to shoot himself out of a cannon over a helicopter.
Cue the Father's Day tribute, with an Australian kid named Darcy Callus -- who looks like he sleeps on a couch in a basement -- honoring his pops with a heartwarming rendition of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows."
Darcy is followed by 13-year-old Evie Clair, whose main goal is to make her daddy smile. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, yet he keeps working at the local prison to support the family. She closes out the show with Christina Perri's "Arms" because that's what she sings to him on his hardest days. Here we go again...
She doesn't have the strongest voice in the world, but her tone and range are perfectly suited for the song. Overall, it's a stunning performance that elicits one single tear from each of my eyes, though many more are shed by the family and audience as the judges unanimously advance yet another deserving singer with a gut-wrenching backstory.
Anthony Penoso is a 58-year-old lawyer who always dreamed of scoring a number one single en route to a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he thinks his original song "Young Enough" about his 25-years-his-junior wife is his meal ticket for life. He looks a bit like Tom Jones, but he sounds more like Leslie Jones.
He gets four X's in record time, prompting Simon to offer him a second song that is somehow worse than the first. But sadly for all parties involved, the judges cannot re-buzz. They let him sing a bit more backstage, just long enough to digest the lyrics, "You're young enough to make me want to squeeze your body." Let that sink in.
Robert De Niro, err, Robert, is a dead ringer for the Oscar-winner, albeit wearing a few extra pounds. He cycles through Walken, Travolta and Nicholson impersonations, and while the voices are on point, the material is terrible. There's no rhyme or reason to the dialogue, and they all look like De Niro doing impressions of other actors.
Send in the clowns, and then send them all out with X's. Thank you and goodnight.
Jay Jay Philips is an '80s hair band rock and roll keyboardist, and he's dedicating his performance to his recent heartbreak in the hopes that his ex will catch his big break on TV and feel regret. In real life, he works in a fiberglass factory. But on stage, he lip syncs "I Hate Myself for Loving You" with his keyboard on the electric guitar setting.
He plays a mean ax, considering it's actually a piano hanging from his neck, and he advances despite a buzzer from Heidi. Simon compares him to Wayne Campbell, so all he needs is a keyboard drummer named Garth. If he finds a dueling piano partner, they might actually make it through the Judge Cuts.
Two guys dressed like chefs, or Men with Pans, have been performing together for a decade. The level of comfort they've developed is evident when they jog off stage, ditch everything but the hats and perform intricate maneuvers while covering (most of) their private parts with pans. Mel and Simon buzz, but Heidi and Howie successfully sway Scary Spice because it's "the funniest thing I've seen all day" -- except, you know, it's not.
Pass the Kleenex
Man, right when you thought you were getting out of this with unscathed ducts, AGT hits you with another tear-jerker. Little Evie Clair was a highlight, for sure, but it was the dancers and magician Tom London who stole the show.
Who were your favorites and which acts do you see advancing the furthest? How are your emotions holding up thus far this season and can you handle another champ who's a singer? Are you on board with a dude essentially playing guitar just because it's a keyboard? And, finally, would you rather see Men with Pans or Men with Pants? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)