Darci Lynne Farmer may have won America's Got Talent
, but did she have the best moment of Season 12? To find out, I reviewed nearly every meaningful performance from the audition round straight through to the finals and ordered up the cream of the crop.
Since it's only a Top 10, every included act is ranked based on his, her or its best. For example, you could justifiably argue that Darci Lynne's routine in the finals belongs on this list. But you won't find it here, because her semifinal performance is what made her the championship frontrunner.
So here are my Top 10 performances of Season 12, and feel free to note your agreement or outrage in the comments section below.
Honorable Mention: Underappreciated Genres
The two most disrespected AGT novelty acts, year after year, are rolla bolla and acrobatic roller skate spinning. And in Season 12, we had some of the best in each.
First was newlywed Jonathan Rinny, whose mother-in-law found out she was his mother-in-law by watching his audition. He rolla bolla'd with skateboards instead of planks, climbed atop the tallest totem I can recall, and (during Judge Cuts) balanced atop a rising pedestal.
Then we had Billy and Emily England, the half-naked spinning siblings who took the field by storm as part of an extended run that ended with Billy throwing his sister off the freaking platform. Their subsequent elimination was every bit as shocking as their final trick.
Honorable Mention: Magic
For a franchise that has produced a number of well-known professional magicians, it was completely stunning to see the finale entirely devoid of the genre.
Eric Jones, a guy whose close-up magic was ill-suited for multi-angle television cameras, was somehow the last man standing, and the long list of shocking eliminations included the likes of Tom London, Henry Richardson, Will Tsai and Jeki Yoo. It's shameful.
Seriously, what happened to all the magicians? Can anyone explain it?
10. Bello Nock (Quarterfinals)
I am not a fan of clowns, and his appearance alone was enough to turn me against him from the beginning. But then he busted out the Wheel of Death and delivered one of the best performances of the season.
And even if his near-fall was intentional, he sold it and sold me on his impending death.
Despite keeping me on the edge of my seat and landing atop my quarterfinal rankings, Bello was unceremoniously eliminated. I'm still betting on a conspiracy, that his act was deemed too dangerous for the live shows, votes be damned.
9. Diavolo (Quarterfinals)
Here's what I wrote after their quarterfinal performance: The true saviors of the episode, they are graceful, seasoned and professional. But most importantly, they have the one thing an acrobatic troupe needs to stand out: Something unique we've never seen before...Diovolo's "architecture in motion" is not only fun to watch, it also comes with an equally significant feature. It can sell tickets.
You can take your pick on which performance is your favorite. This was mine.
8. Chase Goehring (Judge Cuts)
This Ed Sheeran/Jason Mraz hybrid has a radio-ready sound to go along with his brilliant songwriting and unique delivery, but to be fair, his performances were all quite similar due to his style and (justified) insistence on original songs.
I picked his Judge Cuts rendition of "Acapella" since it's the only one I remember that I can hum in my head, and it impressed DJ Khaled enough to suggest they work together. His finale is a close second because it seemed like a crescendo to all his strengths, and that long, enunciated rap was arguably his best individual moment.
7. Colin Cloud (Judge Cuts)
He was the closest we had to a magical success story, but his mentalism hit a roadblock of trying to cram as many predictive moments as would fit in the allotted time slot.
It led to convoluted storylines that were difficult to track or prove accurate, but his Judge Cuts performance was his pinnacle. From licking Mel's hand and guessing her lunch to having a row of audience members holding cards that spelled Mel's secret word, it was brilliant.
6. Johnny Manuel (Judge Cuts/Audition)
His rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" in both his audition and during Judge Cuts (after Simon poo-poo'd his initial song choice) put him on the map as the best vocalist in the competition. His chops were unparalleled, but unfortunately, the identity issues that plagued him during his teen years still aren't fully resolved.
Manuel started out as Lil' Johnny, signing a record contract at 14 and touring with the likes of NSYNC while recording an album with Jermaine Dupri. But that wasn't his scene, and his desire to belt out diva ballads instead of pop and hip hop left him with an uncertain future he spent this summer trying to reclaim.
His song choices doomed him after these initial appearances, and he flamed out despite an early designation as a favorite. He hasn't yet settled into who he'll be as an artist, but when he does, we'll be listening.
5. Light Balance (Finals)
They saved their absolute best for last, adding awe-inspiring elements like the guy flying and the pre-recorded Light Balance dancers projected above the stage. It was and has always been visually stunning, but nevertheless, my singular issue with them persists. I sound like a broken record, but even with all the flashing lights, their inability to stay in perfect unison distracted me.
One reader said voters weren't adept at noticing such technical prowess and were sucked in by the spectacle. Still, I can't help but wonder if they'd have finished better than third if they were crisp dancers who stayed in sync.
4. Yoli Mayor (Judge Cuts)
I didn't have her in my initial pre-researched Top 10, let alone this high, but looking back over the episodes reminded me how truly amazing she was during this second appearance. Her audition was splendid, thanks in part to a makeover (courtesy of Tyra Banks) but this was where she peaked.
Her rendition of Rihanna's "Love on the Brain" is goose bump-inducing from the first note, and she doesn't let up through the entire performance. I'm not sure what happened to her after this, whether it was nerves, song choice, or losing sight of who she is as an artist. But she wasn't able to match this level, or she might have finished in the Top 5.
3. Angelica Hale (Judge Cuts)
I was a huge fan of this adorable little spitfire with the unheralded chops of a seasoned adult, but even I was shocked she managed to finish in second place. Still, it's easy to see how people fell in love with her, with her poise and confidence matched by an authentic humility and politeness that simply make her seem like a good kid.
She was spectacular time and time again, but this one wins out because of the risky decision to sing Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire." It was the perfect mix of a well-known yet difficult song that showed off Angelica's range and a flawless lyrical performance.
2. Mandy Harvey (Audition, But Choose Your Own Adventure)
She was a perennial favorite all season long, a talent so amazing that it wasn't about overcoming a disability, rather that her ability made it difficult to believe she had one. She isn't a deaf singer, she's simply a singer who happens to be deaf. Still, the hope she offers to those facing such obstacles is exponentially more significant, an influence that will resonate well after her time on the show.
All of her performances were brilliant, so feel free to swap this one with "Mara's Song," "This Time" or "Release Me," whichever is your favorite. I initially believed I would choose one of the produced-up numbers, perhaps while she was signing or the lyrics scrolled across the screen behind her (two features I greatly enjoyed). But after reviewing all of them, I had to go with her audition.
Her confidence grew throughout the season, but knowing her as we do now, there's a special moment in her rendition of "Try." You can see the exact moment her faith in her ability is restored, and it's well before the feedback or the golden buzzer. People in the audience begin to stand and applaud midway through, and her voice cracks. I like to believe in that second, she realized, "Oh wait, I can do this," and her doubts were cast aside. I'm not ashamed to admit I teared up watching it, and that's why I'm embedding it here for you to do the same.
1. Darci Lynne Farmer (semifinals)
We only met Edna Doorknocker one time, but oh boy, did she leave an impression. Darci's final performance was an awe-inspiring duet between two puppets, showing off a skill that is so profound it looks too seamless to be difficult. But it was during this one -- when the spunky old maid crushed on and serenaded Simon Cowell with a thunderous rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" that she solidified her role as the favorite.
It was similar to the path taken by fellow ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, who wowed in the finals by conversing with three puppets at once. But he won in the semifinals, during his gut-busting switcheroo with Howie Mandel. I was iffy on him before that point, but incorporating Howie as the perfect dummy proved to be the most fun laugh-out-loud moment of Season 10.
Likewise, Darci won me over with her hilarious banter. The material a singing ventriloquist presents in between songs is every bit as important as (if not more than) being able to sing without moving your lips in the first place.
The Only Fitting End
You may have been wondering about the one obvious omission from this list, a young lady who took us on a tragic journey while also wowing us with her talent. Did Evie Clair deliver a performance worthy of the Top 10? It's debatable only because it's impossible to separate her from the story, and I can't say how I would have judged her otherwise.
But it's also irrelevant, because she is the one I'll remember most from this season. She chose only songs that were perfect for her voice, and she knew her limitations and never tried to outsing her abilities. And in the most difficult moment of all, she kept fighting until the end, just like her father.
I can't imagine how she kept her emotions in check delivering that final rendition of "What a Wonderful World," because I sure couldn't, and I tear up even thinking about those lyrics. I'm thankful she was able to get back on stage so soon, and her saving grace has to be knowing she gave her dad the best moments of his life at a time when it would seem impossible to stay positive.
So I leave you with this, and I thank Evie for allowing us into the most heartbreaking, yet rewarding moment, of her life. We're proud of you, but we don't matter. He's proud of you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)