From singing to dancing to comedy to mentalism to having crossbows shot at you while you’re blindfolded to — whatever the Ninja Twins are — it was a wild night of last-chance performances.
What once was four is now one, as the “America’s Got Talent” Judge Cuts round was shaved from four episodes into a single drive-thru experience amid COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.
That means this is the first and last stop on the way to the live shows, so the judges had to filter through every single act that they said yes to throughout the auditions — save the five who scored golden buzzers and advanced automatically.
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In order to facilitate that in a single hour, quick decisions needed to be made for most of them. In the end, Terry Crews told the judges that nearly half of those affirmatives needed to flip to negatives, which is absolutely brutal.
Rather than get a straight no, it was decided that ten of the acts deserved another chance to really prove themselves one last time before the judges … and on a giant drive-in theater screen (or at least the Hollywood studio lot equivalent).
The night brought some truly impressive acts, with singers facing off against dancers, mentalists, standup comedians and a danger act. Then, there’s one act that almost defies description, while another is one we never even got to see in the audition rounds.
From there, it was a 50/50 shot for those ten acts, as half of them had to go. Of the initial 100 acts (or so Simon says) that advanced to this round, only 36 carried on … so this was a veritable bloodbath of talent!
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 whether or not the judges are getting it right (i.e. agreeing with me).
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Obviously, we didn’t have time to see every single act that got the boot after they advanced 100 of them through the auditions, but there were a few of the more memorable ones they let us share in their moment of sadness.
Jennifer & Daiquiri, an adorable dog act, were the first to get sent home and it broke our hearts hearing her say this was the difference between making it and not. Country trio Broken Roots had their dreams broken as well. Both acts were solid, just not really remarkable enough.
12-year old singer Ashley Marina, who was stopped multiple times by Simon Cowell before she finally poured her heart out enough to advance, saw her story stop before she could get a fourth chance.
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Celina, who was criticized for not fitting feminine norms in her look and style but slayed vocally, was the first emphatic yes from the judges. She was joined by Malik DOPE, one of the show’s most energetic and memorable drummers ever.
The screens were filled with screaming cheer faces when CA Wildcats got the news, proving that cheer could bring it to the next level.
Singers Kameron Ross and Kelvin Dukes, along with the brilliant ukelele player Feng E, all shared their good news in a group call, followed by group results for singers Daneliya Tuleshova, Annie Jones and dancers BAD Salsa.
Thomas Day, who bucked stereotypes as a football player with a dream of singing, will continue his story on the live shows. It was the same news for marionette dancer Noah Epps, who jumped out of his chair in excitement upon hearing the news.
We loved the energy of Double Draogn when these twins first hit the stage, and they got us emotional all over again with their genuine enthusiasm at continuing their dream into the live shows. The diminutive soaring Alan Silva was another beautiful moment for the show, so we’re thrilled he’ll get to fly again.
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Honestly, we’re still laughing a little at Brett Loudermilk — who cracked us up when Sofia wouldn’t pull the sword out of his mouth — jumping back and revealing he was doing what so many on Zoom are probably doing, video-conferencing in his underwear. The man is a born entertainer and just so naturally funny.
Insult comic Alex Hooper was paired up with more traditional standup comedians Usama Siddiquee and Michael Yo, so we were both excited and thrilled when all three advanced. They were quickly followed by glam rocker Bonevega, who was one of the season’s most pleasant surprises in his sparkly leotard.
Heidi was thrilled to advance Bonevega, but perhaps even more thrilled she might get to kiss a pig again when she put the surprisingly fun Pork Chop Revue through. Rap impressionist Vincent Marcus will keep that originality coming into the live shows, as well.
Archie Williams, who was incarcerated much of his life for a crime he didn’t commit, touched us with his story and his soaring vocals, so this was a no-brainer to advance and keep us all dreaming of a better tomorrow.
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JUDGE CUTS ROUND
Of the ten acts given a second shot in this round, only half of them would advance. And as COVID-19 is still a thing, they were going to have to give it their all from their homes, or wherever they could find to perform.
The show did offer “production assistance” to try and spruce things up, and we have to say they came through as best they could in bizarre times. Could this be a harbinger of the live shows to come, following on the heels of at-home live shows for “American Idol” and “The Voice”?
(hula hooper) We didn’t get to see Craig’s initial audition, but we were mesmerized by how many hoops he had in it. Tonight, we got to see what he can do and it was both good and underwhelming. With two and one hoops he had us, but with four he only spun them around his arms. And then the tower of hoops was just traditional hooping. It didn’t feel like enough to us.
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Simon and Maria
(dancers) The truth is, we already have a salsa duo in the live finals even before they performed, so this felt like an uphill battle for these kids. While there’s a lot to enjoy, Simon needs to be more fluid going into lifts as the setups were jarringly apparent, pulling us out of the narrative.
The Brothers Gage
(harmonica players) While it was ambitious to take on LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” on harmonica, we’re not sure it brought the same level of energy or excitement as their first performance. And while their precision in hitting some of those notes was commendable, we’re not sure this was an improvement from their first audition, or enough. They’re a fun duo, but this wasn’t it..
The Ninja Twins
(singer/dancers) Honestly, these guys were not great the first time, so it must have been their personalities that gave them this second chance. We wouldn’t have. This time around, we were impressed that the vocals were stronger, but then they got winded and this was not a long audition. The choreo was light, very light, but fun. So they brought their signature goofy energy and surprised us, but we can’t get over that it was too much for them physically to manage and sing at the same time. They are a lot of fun.
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(singer) Nolan has that wonderful, authentic rasp in his voice that speaks to his pain and his journey, but this song stayed underneath his pocket through most of it. It’s a heartfelt performance, but not a showstopping one. We love what he brings, but he’ll need the grace of his first audition to carry him forward after this good-but-sleepy follow-up that ended too abruptly.
(singer) It took until the second verse for this to really kick it into the gear it should have been from the jump. It was a definite risk following a high-energy country number with Avicii, and we’re not entirely sure it paid off. Shaquira was memorable for really commanding that stage during her initial audition, and this was just a pleasant vocal but was it something that we’ll remember compared to every other great singer?
(mentalist) We love that London-based Ryan enlisted “AGT: Champions” judge Alesha Dixon to help him out for this trick. He incorporated her phone and even had her mentally send a text message to a random friend with just the power of her mind. It was pretty impressive to watch, and Alesha was certainly stunned. Ryan’s stage presence was a little more subdued this time, but he still knows how to hold your attention. We love that his act was more than just knowing, but also involved doing.
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(standup comedian) It’s a thankless job to try and do standup comedy in these bizarre times, but we love that Ty brought his owna audience for a garage set. His material was fresh and fun, even though you could tell some of it hadn’t yet been tightened to a gleaming shine through practice with an audience. But he’s a very clever and relatable comedian, and has a likable stage presence.
(mentalist) Poor Max has had to adapt his show to the video format both times now, but he did a good job of keeping this engaging throughout as Simon matched pictures. And then, Max went in for the kill by revealing Simon’s unscripted answers to three questions he’d previously asked. We’re still not sure how he’d dazzle on a stage, but he did manage to keep our attention throughout and the stunt itself was fun.
(danger act) There’s so much drama in a good danger act, and it’s up to the performer to really sell it. Jonathan is a master performer. Even explaining a rather complex stunt, with a prequel involving Howie, he kept it interesting and had us on the edges of our seats. Are there tricks to this? Who cares, the danger is real and it’s utterly mesmerizing to watch.
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Our Top 5 is obvious from the ranked listing above, but we doubt the judges would advance two mentalists. And we kind of think they’ll put the Nina Twins through because their act is so crazy. That said, we weren’t sure we could rule out Nolan, even if we think this was a step down. Shaquira took a step back, too.
The first to face the judges cut were Simon and Maria, who we felt just weren’t strong enough. But the judges disagreed as they stole one of the spots from our Top 5 right away.
The Brothers Gage and Craig Reid both underwhelmed overall and both got cut, which was the right call. Jonathan was up next, and this was a no-brainer. Of course he went through, our top act of the night.
Shaquira won over the judges, and we totally get it. Her “Redneck Woman” was inspired. Then the judges brought up Ninja Twins, Ty and Ryan all at the same time.
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Could they all get the boot? That would devastate our predictions — and that’s exactly what happened. It’s rare the judges disagree with us so much … maybe the social distancing was getting to them. Of course, there’s no way we’re the ones who are wrong.
Finally, they brought out Nolan and Max, who both deserved to carry on in the show, and doing the math it was obvious they were going to round out the final two slots.
The only thing we would change is giving the boot to Simon and Maria, as we’ve seen better salsa dancing here and elsewhere. We think Ryan was a stronger act, and we’re sad to see the insanity that is the Ninja Twins go.
“America’s Got Talent” continues next Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET with a 15th anniversary special before the live shows expand to two nights a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
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