Adios, auditions; hello, real competition. Over three nights this week, America's Got Talent judges Howard Stern, Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne will have the unenviable task of whittling down the crop of contestants now in Las Vegas from over 100 to the lucky 48 who will make the live shows.
The contestants gather at the Palazzo hotel, where they're greeted by the judges, who look down at them from a balcony. "We're gonna break some dreams," Stern says. The judges waste little time, informing the contestants that they've been divided into two groups: the "Judges' Favorites," who will perform first, and "The Standbys," who will compete for the remaining slots that have not been filled for the live show. If an act didn't make either of these groups, their AGT dreams have gone to die. They're headed home.
The contestants scope the lists. Some celebrate being a judge's favorite (we spied Sebastian de la Cruz, the young mariachi singer, in this group) while others take solace in at least being a Standby. Some acts, including acrobatic duo the Bandbaz Brothers, singer Charlie C., the Olate dog-trick duo, David Smith Jr. (a.k.a. the human cannonball), girl band Ivy Rose and player of the earth harp William Close, are on neither list. It appears they're headed home. But wait: the judges call upon the six acts for a special announcement. It turns out that only the Bandbaz Brothers, Charlie C. and Ivy Rose will be departing. The other three acts don't even have to perform: they're headed straight to the next round in New York City. Yes, you read that correctly: the human cannonball is advancing without a second audition.
The Vegas auditions – more specially, the "Judges' Favorites" – now proceed by type of act. First up are the "danger" acts.
All Wheel Sports: This stunt steam with scooters, bikes, trampoline jumpers and countless other elements have so much going on that any talent gets lost in the mix. Stern thinks it's too busy an act.
New Guard America: The rifle drill team flips bayonets to one another in rapid succession. Difficult? Yes. Does it pale in comparison to, say, a flame juggler? Absolutely.
Ben Blaque: The crossbow wielder is back with a more attractive assistant. This time he ups his game: he shoots his bow backwards while blindfolded and still succeeds. The judges disagree, however, on how impressive his act truly is.
Cristin Sandu: Dude balances on circular metal things . . . again.
Up next, the female singers.
Mary Joyner: The daughter of Flo-Jo was mediocre at best in her initial audition, and she completely bombs here during her rendition of Leona Lewis' "Footprints in the Sand." "She blew it," Stern says.
Roxy Doll: This spunky young lady delivers a solid karaoke rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Valerie," adding little to no new flavor, however.
Brianna Price: Price offers a bright spot with a down-home, rockabilly-ish take on the Johnny Cash classic "Folsom River Blues."
Cecila Detwiler: This redhead has massive chops, as evidenced by her note-extending version of Martina McBride's "Anyway."
Luna: There's talent with this one, but nerves get the best of her. Her version of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy" is off to a good start before she completely forgets the words. The judges send her home immediately. Ouch!
Nikki Jensen: This young woman gave up her "great career in journalism" (hilarious!) to pursue her singing dream. She's the clear-cut winner of this group. Her Americana spin on the Rolling Stones' "Can't Always Get What You Want" is warm and wonderfully warbly.
Next on stage: the dance groups.
All That!: These "cloggers" (we thought they were just called group a tap-dancing crew) find a cohesive groove. But this act hardly has $1 million written on it.
787 Crew: This Puerto Rican outfit combine acrobatics with hip-hop-style dance. Despite one flub (a group member gets kicked in the head . . . but is OK), the judges are impressed.
Funk Beyond Control: This multi-member group dress like animals and demonstrate mediocre dance moves as they prowl around the stage. It's hardly show-stopping.
Loyalty Dance Team: Like 787, they specialize in hip-hop dance. While they don't mess up, they're rather bland. Stern says he believes they took a step backwards.
Next, our favorite category, the "novelty" acts, a.k.a. the acts that are so bizarre they don't fit into a category.
Aurora Light Painters vs. Light Wire Theater: It's a battle of the lights-are-off-but-we're-creating-mayhem acts. And both are intimidated by the other. Neither wows. The edge has to go to Light Wire Theater, who raise their game to another level. But the judges don't feel either act perfected their chops.
Horse: The man who repeatedly gets hit in the balls is back. He brings his "A" game by starting his routine dragging out his assistants in a wagon attached to his nuts. He then takes a bowling ball to the nut sack and has his family jewels ridden over by a bicycle. Mandel says he thinks the guy can actually win.
All Beef Patty: The drag-queen singer screeches his way through Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" to little fanfare.
Joe Castillo: The sand artist returns and once again cranks out an undeniably impressive showing, making murals out of, well, sand.
Todd Oliver and Irving: How far can you take a comedy act using a dog as a ventriloquist dummy? As evidenced here, not very.
And lastly, our three classical singers perform.
Simply Sergio: This awkward middle-aged man stumbled his way through his first audition and barely got to Vegas. Here he first claims to be sick, and then ends up forgetting the words to "O Sole Mio." To top it off, he denies his mistake to Stern.
Luiz Meneghin: It's been a rough go for this family man as the bank recently foreclosed on his house. Sadly, he struggles through his performance by missing notes and fumbling with his phrasing.
Andrew De Leon: He may look gothic and never have sung to anyone before his AGT audition, but this underdog continues to impress. His falsetto-heavy performance is again absolutely stellar.
And that's where we're left after Day One of the AGT Vegas auditions, with all but a few acts proving why they didn't deserve to get past the initial auditions. We can only imagine what lies ahead come the "Standby" acts.
Last episode: One Last Chance