It's taken three months of endless auditions, Wild-Card rounds, YouTube shows and enough product placement to drive a dude wild, but we finally arrived at a semifinal round last night on America's Got Talent.
If you haven't been dutifully watching since the seventh season began in May, the competition has spent the past few weeks whittling down a crop of several dozen acts to the 24 still vying for the grand prize: $1 million and a shot at headlining in Las Vegas. Half of the semifinalists performed last night, each hoping to become one of the three acts advancing to the finals on Wednesday’s results show. Let's see how they did.
Andrew De Leon: With bug-eyed contact lenses and a gothic sartorial sense, the opera singer was an early sensation this season – before he was ousted in the Las Vegas round. But the judges brought him back last week for the Wild-Card round, and despite a pitchy performance, De Leon made the most of his second chance by advancing the semis. A week did De Leon well: the singer elevated his vocal projection last night to the stratosphere during his soaring rendition of "Ave Maria." His increased confidence and charisma were palpable, but the judges weren't digging it. "There are times I feel the whole thing gets a bit strange," Howard Stern said. Howie Mandel added that he worried De Leon's lack of formal training would be his downfall.
Todd Oliver: It took us some time to come around to this pet ventriloquist's shtick. But over the past few weeks, after following Stern's advice and keeping his material topical, Oliver has made noticeable progress. His improvement continued on Tuesday: opting for a late-night talk show theme, Oliver and his trusty Boston Terrier sidekick Irving played off one another in winning fashion – the comic even slipped in a Prince Harry-in-Vegas joke. "The material's fantastic!" Sharon Osbourne gushed. Mandel told Oliver he was "possibly a headline act." Stern clarified: "You are a headline act."
Donovan and Rebecca: This acrobatic husband-wife duo has thrived on its awe-inspiring strength: Rebecca has continually demonstrated her ability to lift Donovan, who is built like a Mack truck. The duo highlighted that quality last night as Rebecca picked up Donovan while hanging upside down from a trapeze. Later, she held him at a 180-degree angle, while wearing stiletto boots. "Every time you see it it’s remarkable," Stern said of the pair's act. "You really deserve to be in our finals," added Osbourne.
Edon: Life has been good for this 14-year-old singer, who's sort of a yarmulke-wearing Bieber: the pre-pubescent vocalist said he's already received several marriage proposals as a result of appearing on AGT. As for his semifinal performance? The singer’s take on One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" left the audience chanting his name. "You are the best singer in this competition," Mandel proclaimed. Stern however, felt otherwise. "I was a little bit bored by that song," he said.
The Scott Brothers: This was the only act that we felt didn't deserve to be in the semifinals. Were we proved wrong? Not really. Donning metallic face paint, the brotherly dancing duo channeled their inner robot while swaying and shuffling in sync with one another. They’re certainly adept dancers, and have much in the way of cohesiveness, but their routine on Tuesday felt akin to a busker’s performance on a local boardwalk. "I don't think it's gonna be good enough this time," Stern said. Osbourne concurred: "You're great at what you do but it's a really hard week."
Dittelman: We've been trying to figure out this mind reader for the past few weeks now. How is it that he’s been spot-on every time with his predictions? But once again Dittelman blew our, um, mind. This time the nerdy twentysomething had Stern use different colored markers to color in a self-portrait. The judge opted for a green face, orange sunglasses and red devil horns. Then came the big reveal. Dittelman uncovered a drawing that was, of course, identical to Stern’s. "Dittel, Dittel Dittelman!" Osbourne shrieked. "I'm so impressed!"
Turf: Thanks to his backstory – he’s essentially a homeless street performer – this contortionist dancer has become a fan favorite this season. And while it would make for a wonderful story if Turf were to advance to the finals, it looked unlikely after his performance last night. Turf attempted to show off his dance chops and elevate himself to more than just a freak-show contortionist by shimmying to Chris Brown's "Yeah 3X.” Instead of looking impressive, it came off as forced. Additionally, his joint-popping moves have started to feel a bit stale. "There is similarity to what you do each time," Stern said. Mandel and Osbourne remained supportive. "Just when I think I've seen it all you pull me back in," Osbourne said.
Bria Kelly: This 16-year-old YouTube Show country singer benefitted from a weak cast of competitors during her only other performance. Last night's shrill rendition of Pink's "F**kin Perfect" didn't help put to rest any doubts about her talent, though. "I don't think you did something that really stood out," Mandel said. Osbourne agreed, explaining that the young singer needed to show more emotion.
Joe Castillo: A beret-sporting artist who creates stories through sand manipulation, Castillo has specialized in matching his artistry with a cohesive storyline. But last night, aside from a tenuous "peace and love" theme, there was little connection among his sand drawings. With The Youngbloods' "Get Together" as his background music, Castillo transformed a dove into two hands clasped before they became a woman and man hugging. It felt flat. "The audience might have felt like they've seen this before," Stern said, adding that he was concerned there was too much of "a similarity" to Castillo's week-to-week showings.
William Close: After Close’s previous performance, all three judges offered to personally finance the earth harpist's Vegas show. No surprise, then, that they were enamored of the musician from the second he stepped on stage last night. The earth harp – a massive succession of strings anchored to the ceiling of the venue in which AGT is held – is transfixing to watch in action, but Close should not have employed two god-awful singers who overshadowed his daring instrumental take on Muse's "Starlight." Still, the judges lapped it up. "You are our favorite act," Mandel said. Stern didn't hide his fandom. "I'm loving this!" he said, smiling.
Tom Cotter: Cotter, a middle-aged comedian, seemed too polished in previous outings to be considered an amateur. As only a small amount of background research will tell you, that's because the comedian has already has had some mainstream success, including a standup special on Comedy Central. But really, who can deny his talent? Tom Cotter is downright hilarious, and versatile. On Tuesday the comedian had Mandel pick a category from a list – the judge chose "College" – and he followed with an extended riff on the subject. He proceeded to call college students "kidiots" and explain how he had parts of his body magnetized in response to female students’ preference for tongue rings. "You're terrific!" Stern said. "You're professional. You're fun." Osbourne added that she loved his "slightly more edgy material. I'm dirty," she admitted.
Academy of Villains: Another YouTube Show act, this 30-person dramatic hip-hop troupe mesmerized us a few weeks back during their first outing. Although it was amusing to see so many dancers, all dressed as mimes, rock out to a Skrillex jam last night, it just wasn't memorable enough. Stern, as he had done all evening, was the only judge to "rain on the parade. I think it was very similar this time," he said, comparing the group's performance to their first. "I was wishing it would be over." Osbourne pleaded with America to just vote. "I just pray that everybody picks up the phone,” she said.
PREDICTIONS: Tough call, but our gut is telling us that Edon, William Close and Tom Cotter will advance to the finals on tonight's result show, which also features a performance from Neon Trees.
Last recap: The Wild Card Round