Season 17 is pushing new boundaries with acts combining rap and magic, yo-yo with acrobatic dance, and singing with … fire?
A new season of “America’s Got Talent” kicked off and right away it became clear that people were using quarantine to not just hone their talents, but take them in new directions.
We saw a mash-up of rap and magic, yo-yo with acrobatic dancing, and ventriloquism without any puppets. And this was just the first night of auditions. In other words, these contestants didn’t come to play!
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As always, there were also plenty of touching backstories, including the one that scored Terry Crews’ first Golden Buzzer of the season. Thankfully, the contestant was more than just a difficult and heartbreaking story, they were also incredibly talented in their chosen area.
It’s the variety that makes “AGT” so special compared to every other competition show on television. You truly never know what you’re going to get. Even when things go wrong, like what happened with two different animal acts tonight, there’s usually something entertaining about it.
The night also featured a former UK reality show contestant, breaking out solo with a command vocal performance that definitely stands as one of the best performances of the night. On the other end, literally setting himself on fire could not save another awful singer’s audition.
JoJo Siwa and her mom Jessalyn got a quick assist in this premiere as well, though they spent their time just off the stage as they watched a girl group they’d put together take a chance on “AGT.” Why this show? Because JoJo is a super-fan, of course!
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
And just for fun, I’m gonna rank them from worst to first to see how my favorites do and then we can see how you did — i.e., if you agreed with me.
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(magician) Was this supposed to be serious? Jack’s delivery was just terrible, and the bit of magic we did see was the kind you can buy in any standard kit. That, and by shoving a bottle up your — as we were saying, we just weren’t impressed with this. At all.
(singer) Well, we now understand why Joe was so shiny — it wasn’t sweaty nerves. Instead, he wound up on fire as he sang (horribly). Honestly, the fire was impressive as he was fully engulfed with only that goop to protect him from horrific burns. But we were still happy when Howie completed the buzzes to get the act to stop.
(animal trainer) It took more than half of the act for Pepino to just “sit, sit, sit, sit.” And then he didn’t stay sitting. We can imagine that this was a cute act when it worked properly, but this was a disaster from start to finish. We’ve no idea what tricks were supposed to be part of this, but other than shaking his head yes to say he was excited to be there, Pepino was not going to do any of them. He was good with exiting stage left.
Results: [the act left so … no?]
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(Yoga with Goats and Alpacas)
[[see Pepino & David Lichman above]]
(yoga) We know that this is a thing, but how is it an act for this show? We did kind of get a kick out of Terry, Heidi, Sofia, and Howie all getting roped into the act. The act, though, was a complete disaster. The goats had no interest in doing anything their trainers were trying to get them to do. From the brief glimpse we got, we were disappointed that we even had to endure that brief glimpse.
Results: [we’re going to assume it’s a no]
(musician) Okay, we get it. The song was corny and borderline stupid, but what’s wrong with a silly song about wanting more parmesan from those stingy people at Italian restaurants who drop one twist and then look at you like you’re a monster if you want more? We were a little surprised the judges gave him four X’s because he actually has a very pleasant singing voice, that’s perfect on silly little songs like this. He’s someone who could easily do a children’s album, though there was a bit of a dark edge to this one. After the judges slammed their buttons and told him they didn’t like what he was doing, the audience started chanting “parmesan!” which was kind of beautiful in a very weird way, and then we got a full singalong!
Results: X, X, X, X [changed to X, Y, Y, Y]
(drumline) The group needs to work on tightening up their tandem work, and hiding some of their “setup” elements more. At the same time, it all looked a little clustered together (and perhaps because they were in all white) leaving the visuals they were creating a little muddled. There were some great moments of energy and creativity throughout, as well as a sense of fun that was infectious in a live setting, as evidenced by the reactions to their performance. It’s a group with a lot of potential so long as they continue to work on strengthening their craft as this is just the kind of act people want to root for. Their passion is certainly infectious.
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(girl group) JoJo Siwa was just off stage, alongside her mom Jessalyn, as the creators and curators of this group of brightly-colored, energetic little girls. In other words, they had JoJo’s signature stamp all over them. Not all of them came through as strongly in their solo work, but they actually sounded pretty good in harmony. With so many performers, that’s not always easy to pull off. Their youthfulness and energy is their strength, but it also hurt vocal discipline. As might be expected, the staging, choreography and dancing was stronger than the singing, but we’ll give props to the song as one that is catchy and could do well for that kid demographic.
(magician) Definitely a unique twist on card tricks by incorporating an original rap. That said, most of it could have just been card placement beforehand and fakeout shuffling, so he needs to up the complexity of his card tricks in future rounds. But for sheer innovation, and the quality of his overall presence and performance, we’d want to give him the opportunity to do just that. It’s got the makings of something really unique and special — the kind of thing that can only find a home on “AGT” — but he definitely needs to up the ante, so to speak.
Amazing Veranica and Her Talented Dogs
(dog trainer) This was already a cute act with well-disciplined dogs, but then Veranica added quick-change into the act by quick-changing one of her dogs multiple times. It was just about the cutest thing, as was everything these talented little pooches were doing. What was even better was how clean the overall act was, with Veranica handling it with no obvious missteps (or a very generous edit). There’s a charm to a successful dog act, and this one had charm for days.
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(standup comedian) His time was short, but we’d have appreciated a little bit of transition between some of his topic changes. His story being a younger stepdad gives him a unique perspective and all of his material landed; it was just a bit jarring to shift from one topic to the next with no warning. If that’s his style, we could see getting used to it, but in this setting, we weren’t. That said, his material is strong and his charisma as a performer on the stage is off the charts. He’s fun just to watch and listen as he tells stories … that they’re funny is just a great bonus!
(singer) Lee is a natural as a vocalist, with the ability to connect with his music and share that connection through his talent. He handled the rapid cadence of the early lines and then had so much pain as he navigated the story of “Better Days” with masterful authenticity. It was such a clean and flawless performance, it wasn’t just that he sounded like a professional singer up there, he sounded like the professionally mixed final recorded single released by a professional singer. He gave that moment everything he had and it was fantastic. Lee competed in the UK for Little Mix’s group-making reality show “Little Mix: The Search” back in 2020. but he definitely proved himself as a solo artist tonight.
(ventriloquist) A professional opera singer who was inspired by Terry Fator and Darci Lynne to try her hand at ventriloquism and singing. How about ventriloquism without puppets? A wholly unique take on the whole artform, Celia instead performed as a radio while she was “getting ready” for her big performance. She even took a fake phone call halfway through. But we saw her flossing, brushing her teeth, applying lipstick — all while singing nonstop. And the ventriloquism itself was just about flawless. It’s amazing with only two years of working on this that she’s as good as she is. The fact she came with an inspired take made it even more special.
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(saxophone player) Avery didn’t think he was good enough for this opportunity, but his mom decided he was ready and signed him up anyway. He opened up about bullying he endured due to physical issues he has related to being premature. He was so candid about his challenges and how he channeled all he’d been through into his instrument. When he finally shook off the nerves and played, it was with such a cool, laid-back, jazzy vibe you’d have never imagined he was so nervous just minutes before. He comes alive when he plays and it’s so beautiful to watch that life come into him as a performer. He took over the stage and had that whole audience on their feet. On top of that, he’s one hell of a sax player, with incredible riffs and control of each note to perfection.
Results: [Terry’s Golden Buzzer]
(yo-yo performer) Shu put together a whole choreographed routine with incredible athleticism and intricate yo-yo work throughout. It was an amazing combination of multiple forms of art to create something we’ve never seen before. What he was doing with his body had such style and rhythm, the yo-yo is almost secondary, and yet at the same time, the yo-yo is everything when it comes to why this act is so successful. It’s taking something that, as Simon put it, can be “boring,” and pushing it so far into the next level, it actually leaves you breathless.
“America’s Got Talent” continues Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.