Last week, Howard Stern made a seven-year-old kid cry during the New York auditions for America's Got Talent. That's pretty hardcore, which may be why the judges played nice this week. Not that they're ever channeling Simon Cowell or anything, and Stern was generally remorseful for being the first to hit the buzzer on the pint-sized rapper Mir Money.
Indeed, week three of auditions certainly got off to a kinder, gentler start in hot and humid Tampa Bay, Florida, where Stern and fellow judges Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel sweated it out while enduring the usual assortment of the good, the bad and the truly talentless. Here's the shiny, happy blow-by-blow.
The Good (aka "The Real Business")
Inspire the Fire, singing and dancing troupe: Not only were these kids entertaining, but they also came with an uplifting story – they're part of a non-profit organization that helps youth stay out of trouble. With their colorful super-geek outfits and gospel- and hip-hop-infused rendition of "Lean on Me," they were dubbed an "urban Glee." While they're certainly in a crowded field, their edginess and inspiring cause could carry them far. They're at least on their way to round two in Las Vegas.
All That!, clogging group: Surprisingly, this was the strongest performance of the night. On the surface, this ragtag bunch of burly, muscle-shirted, tatted-up tough guys didn't look to be graceful at all. But they wowed the crowd and the judges when they turned out to be seriously in sync and totally riveting. There's at least one other clogging group already in the running. Could this be the year of the lead-footed folk dance? Hey, stranger things have happened.
The Distinguished Men of Brass, brass band: The award for most touching – and timely – story of the night went to these guys, who used to perform at a theme park before being laid off. Since then, they've continued playing together to make ends meet and keep their dream alive. Wearing suits and toting horns, tubas and marching drums, they sang and danced their way into America's heart. Like Howard said, "Thank God for bad times," 'cause it brought them together.
The Eh (aka "Not So Much")
Boss, dance crew: It seemed like the producers of the show really wanted us to feel emotionally connected to these young, shirtless, shoeless all-male contemporary dancers, since there were a lot of tears after the performance. But they just didn't get enough screentime to fully flesh out their act or seem as awe-inspiring as the judges made them out to be. Maybe they'll blow our minds when they get a second chance in Vegas? Or maybe not.
Ulysses, singer: This endearingly awkward 49-year-old might just be the male version of YouTube sensation and Britain's Got Talent alum Susan Boyle. Sporting a potbelly and gray afro, he wasn't much to look at when he first walked onstage, but his deep, suave voice shocked everyone. Of course, he sang the Love Boat theme – and his entire repertoire consisted of Seventies theme songs. Still, the judges ate him up. Even Howard got into it, but the shock jock was a resounding "no" when it came time to vote because it wasn't "a million-dollar act." Still, it was two to one, so this guy's sticking around.
The Just Plain Bad (aka "The Bizarro Bunch")
Bikini Bombshells, dance group: Despite the name, these women were not that attractive. (In fact, one of them kinda looked like a dude.) Of course, the men in the room went wild when they first strutted onstage wearing hot pants and barely-there bras. But things went limp when they proved to have no rhythm or coordination as they comically writhed around to "Push It." Surprisingly, Howard was the first to hit the buzzer, saying his dearly departed 95-year-old aunt had better moves. "If your implants had exploded, we would have had more excitement," he quipped. These bombshells bombed, big time. At least they didn't cry.
Michael Griffin, escape artist: This guy talked a good talk, calling himself "America's Escape Hero" and claiming to be "the only human ever to survive a hanging on the back of a horse," whatever the hell that means. He asked Howard – who eagerly wanders onstage for any ol' reason – to tie him to a chair, from which he lamely escaped after tipping over sideways and squirming around on the floor. After getting a triple X, the judges chastised him for not utilizing an "expert knot-maker." The most entertaining aspect of the whole thing was the bickering that went on between Howard and Sharon as she shrieked commands at him on how to best tie the guy up, as if it was a game show challenge.
We Hardly Knew Ya
Alesya Gulevich, hula-hoop artist: This Lady Gaga look-alike got about 20 seconds of screentime, during which she mesmerizingly spun dozens of hula-hoops around her body at the same time. Snagging three "yeses," we hope we get to see more of her in Vegas.
The incestuous fire-eaters: During their 15 seconds of fame, this anonymous group grossed out the judges by passing flames with their tongues. In past weeks, we've been forced to watch a guy skewering his face and another getting kicked in the nuts, so why draw the line here? Sadly, they won't be coming back to show us more.
Last episode: Hate Myself for Loving You