If Monday's season premiere of America's Got Talent taught us anything, it's that network TV can tame even the most outlandish of characters. Howard Stern, this season's new addition to the AGT judging panel (and clearly the biggest reason to watch the show), was able to provide a dose of comic relief in his first showing, but it felt a bit muzzled. The talent? Aside from a few semi-standouts, it also was a bit lacking.
So it was with trepidation that we tuned into the second part of the AGT two-night season premiere on Tuesday evening. The judges were now in San Francisco. Could the City by the Bay be the spark to jump-start this affair? Here's how it shook out.
The Real Business
1. Tim Hockenberry, singer: Meet AGT's version of Josh Krajcik. For those unacquainted, Krajcik was the husky-voiced, Joe Cocker-sounding throwback from The X Factor who finished in second place behind Melanie Amaro. Hockenberry unleashed a similarly gravel-y growl during a spare rendition of "You Are So Beautiful." The song is admittedly tailor-made for this sort of brawny bellow, but Hockenberry's voice has a grit that can't be taught. We're expecting big things.
2. Alonzo Jones, a.k.a. Turf, dancer/contortionist: This street performer, who calls himself an "extreme contortionist dancer," has the logic-defying ability to move his body in ways it isn't supposed to. In addition to twisting his limbs in eye-popping fashion, Turf has also mastered the art of the slow-motion moonwalk. Even more so, besides his undeniable dance-meets-Stretch Armstrong skills, dude has one helluva story: he was homeless for two years, when he would dance through the darkness of the night to perfect his chops.
3. Luis Menagan, opera singer: Last night we gave props to a contestant known as Simply Sergio; we felt he had a halfway decent "opera-style" voice. But Menagan, a nurse who sings for his patients so that they "make bowel movements," blew Sergio out of the water. We don't know what Italian words Menagan was singing, or who wrote it, or how far he can go in the competition. But by virtue of his sheer talent alone, this man deserves praise.
4. David Garibaldi and His CNYK, artist: As the first act of the episode, we had an inkling that Garibaldi, an artist backed by a team of dancers, would either kill or deserve to be killed. Thankfully, he was spectacular. In what seemed like a matter of minutes, Garibaldi went all Jackson Pollock on us as he turned splattered paint on a canvas into a beautiful portrait. His dancers also added a much-appreciated element of entertainment.
5. Dave Burley, comic impressionist: We love us some vocal impressions. Frank Caliendo? A golden god in our eyes. As such, Burley had us hooked from the moment he broke into a Nicolas Cage impersonation, then transitioned into a spot-on Charlie Sheen. We agreed with Stern's assessment of this one: Burley needs to work a bit on his material and make it a bit more edgy. But based on this initial performance, he certainly has the trappings of a soon-to-be comedy star.
Not So Much
1. Dustpan and Broom Guy, musician: We wanted to like this guy so badly. Mainly because anyone who has the balls to fashion a dustpan and broom into a flute-style musical instrument – and then decide that the best song to display his talent with said instrument is Celene Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" – deserves respect. Really, though, should a man playing a dustpan be one step closer to a million dollars?
2. Emily Ann Band, musicians: We're not even going to try to classify this band genre-wise. They performed Britney Spears' "Toxic," an undeniably awesome song, yes. Which made their atrocious version all the more upsetting. What the judges saw in this band, we'll never know.
3. Mike Price, juggler: It's not that we don't respect the difficulty involved in juggling; Price did a crazy trick where he seamlessly moved a bowling pin from his chin to his head to the back of his foot, and then back into the rotation. Yet we just don't get its appeal. So we were a bit stumped when judge Howie Mandel told Price that he'd "managed to make juggling cool." Frankly, we don't think that's possible.
4. Paula Nelson, a.k.a. Granny G: This 80-year-old badass grandma probably doesn't deserve to catch any flack, because it's really hard to hate on a senior citizen who raps, chides horny boys for thinking sex is free and ends her performance by screaming "West Side, bitches!" But this is clearly a one-trick pony. The judges should have known this. Let's be real: Granny G is adorable, funny and inventive. But a serious contender? Hardly.
5. Micah Gregorio, singer: It's not that this 14-year-old's rendition of Christina Aguilera's "The Voice Within" was bad. In fact, the young lady can certainly sing. But anyone who's watched even one episode of The Voice or American Idol knows Gregorio wouldn't stand a chance when pitted against any of the singers from either show. We're obviously dealing with lower-tier talent here . . . and that makes us sad.
The Bizarro Bunch
1. Mr. Special, talent indiscernible: At 57, the man who calls himself Mr. Special should be reaching the prime of his life. Instead, he's auditioning for AGT while donning an Angry Bird costume, riding on a tricycle and playing a trumpet. It's not even the fact that Mr. Special had absolutely no talent that puts him at the top of this list. It's that he's such a pathetic case.
2. Kim MacAfee, singer: We had high hopes for this 43-year-old hip-hop head. She dressed like Common, listed off some dope rappers as her inspirations and strutted onstage with confidence and swagger. But once the beat dropped and she started singing, our stomach sank. Why? MacAfee sounded like a seal who'd been repeatedly punched in the gut. It's not that MacAfee is bizarre; it's that she puzzled us. How could a person have such tasteful assessment of others' music and such a horrible barometer of her own?
3. Kotton Kandy, dancer: Kotton Kandy is a large man, part drag queen, part dancer, who wears pink boas and a bedazzled bikini and gyrates his hips. Enough said.
4. Navy Uniform-Wearing Men Who Ride Motorcycles: Since when did slowly riding a motorcycle in circles while other members of your group crawl between each other's legs become a talent?
5. Flaming Spaghetti-Strainer Hat Men: If there was any carry-over from Monday to Tuesday, it was only the fact that if a judge felt a contestant resembled Stern, that spelled disaster. This gaggle of bare-chested men, who wore flaming spaghetti strainers atop their heads (yes, that's all they did), had one dude Sharon Osbourne referred to as "Howard without hair." Obviously, they were doomed.
Howard Stern's Quotes of the Day
"Do people think you're weird? Me too. Join the club." – Stern to an unnamed contestant
"The moment I saw you, I knew I was gonna hate you." – Stern to a green-faced man with no talent whatsoever
"I tried to take it in. I couldn't. I don't go that way." – Stern responding to Kotton Kandy's request to "take in" his performance
"The singing wasn't good. The dancing wasn't good. But the Supergirl underpants are fantastic." – Stern to a woman whose talent was akin to a stripper's
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