America's Got Talent
is back on track after a lackluster quarterfinals, with 12-year-old singing ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer delivering possibly the best performance of season 12 to kick off the semifinals.
Sara and Hero ousted half-naked siblings Billy and Emily England in the sole results show shocker, but the pooches are so fun -- and spinning roller skate acrobatics so classically underrated -- that I won't protest too much. Neither was going to win anyway.
Now 11 more acts will hit the stage hoping to earn your votes and one of five spots in the finale. It is (of course) singer laden and features a whopping five golden buzzer recipients, but methinks it may be the vocalists who struggle to stand out this time around.
Lineup and Projections
Mandy Harvey, the deaf singer who Simon Cowell sent straight to the live shows, has to be considered a favorite, and one must assume the superior Angelica Hale (Chris Hardwick's pick) will cancel out Celine Tam (Laverne Cox's) based on sheer similarity. The formerly blind Christian Guardino (Howie Mandel's) and inspirational plane crash survivor Kechi Okwuchi face uphill battles, while Air Force a capella choir In the Stairwell is just happy to be here.
Gloriously, hopes are high for the novelty acts, with mentalist Colin Cloud, architecture-in-motion Diavolo, LED dancers Light Balance (Tyra Banks' pick), robot dancer Merrick Hanna and moderately deserving wildcard Pompeyo Family Dogs all in the mix. Escaping with only two singers joining the Top 10 would provide some much-needed genre balance, even if magic is noticeably absent.
But as always, advancing isn't based on expectation. Let's find out who's all in. On to the show!
Celine Tam's Heart Will Go On
After the one-hour Hand in Hand: Benefit for Hurricane Relief (and I hope anyone who donated got to talk to someone famous), it's time for the late-night version of AGT. Kicking things off is Celine Tam, and it appears our twinsie kid singers are bookending the evening. It's another nail in the coffin for the 9-year-old's chances, but at least she and adorable little sis Dion are enjoying the sights and sounds of Hollywood.
She has chosen "How Far I'll Go" from Moana, which is both cute and tacky. It's amazing as far as humans go, but for a competition like this, well ... it's actually still pretty solid. People love her, and even though she lacks star power, this might be her best performance yet.
Simon pays homage to the show that preceded AGT (pledging love, support and prayers ... everything but money) before declaring this a massive step up for Celine. The song, the control and the key change were all perfect, and Simon's boy will be enjoying this for days.
Mel B. commends her for "conquering the stage like an already-prepared, well-auditioned performer," but this was too musical theatre. Heidi calls her a shining bright star with a crystal clear and pitch-perfect voice, while Howie finds her adorable and hopes her dreams come true.
(PS: I apologize for suggesting Simon didn't pledge cash. You always hate when people brag about their massive donations, so perhaps he wanted to keep it personal.)
Colin Cloud Grabs a Rebound
His quarterfinal routine was a bit convoluted, so the real-life Sherlock Holmes is hopeful for a more complete performance. He starts off by (apparently) correctly guessing Howie's iPhone unlock code, then promises to include the entire nation in this trick.
He previously used the AGT Twitter account to request a random celebrity, city and object in one tweet, and there were thousands upon thousands of responses. They printed and distributed them to the crowd -- "quintillions of combinations" -- with the promise of predicting what the judges will pick, and Colin directs the foursome to grab as many from audience members as they can.
Mel B. then picks a random card, and Heidi chooses a random tweet printed on it. It's Ellen, Rome and cheese, and Colin confirms that no one else has a card with the same combination. Then he shows a pre-recorded video of him correctly predicting those three answers, followed by one of him going undercover at various points in the judges' lives to drop hints -- like, seriously, while they're out getting food and stuff.
I don't even care how he did it because the sketch stuff was hilarious. Mel is freaked out, as every segment was seemingly random, and this time was much better than the last. Heidi calls him a sneaky bugger, Simon has goosebumps on his goosebumps and Howie has never seen anything like this.
Christian Guardino Sees the Light
He needed the Dunkin' Save to stick around after leading off his quarterfinal show, a less-than performance he blames on nerves. When he's anxious, his vision closes in on him, and the whole world disappears. He plays up his lack of confidence and being left out as a kid because he couldn't do things, but he vows not to let fear and stress get in the way.
It's a slowed-down version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and much like Celine, it's arguably his best yet. But it's also probably not enough, even if he sang his way into contention.
Howie declares that Christian needs to be here and needs to be heard, while Mel's feeling all the feels in a killer performance. Heidi praises the song choice, while Simon could happily listen to it with his eyes closed, whatever that means.
In the Stairwell Emerges from the Corridor
Their intro is a Murica-inspiring retelling of why the individual members signed up for the armed forces, backtracked by "America the Beautiful," and it's much more effective than a group backstory.
They're doing Ed Sheeran's "Castle on a Hill" because, you know, Ed Sheeran is under-represented this season. That being said, it's as close to the Treblemakers as they can hope for, and it appears everyone has brought their A-game. It's another that probably isn't enough but admirable for a potential admiral.
Mel sheds a tear and reiterates her love for the cheesy, awkward choreography, while Simon admits this is the first time he's taking them seriously and predicts we'll see them in the finals (nope). This moment also marks Howie's inaugural love, but then Heidi hilariously congratulates them for "doing the best you could."
Merrick Hanna is a Flying Robot
He was quiet and shy "when he was a little kid," but that all changed with his first robot. They were alive and real, and they quickly became his best friends and brought him out of his shell. He started talking to kids at school, and the family went all in on Skynet. He might exist simply to assassinate John Connor.
The projection screen is back, and he's added a harness that allows him to pop and lock in mid-air, as well as a literal robot friend (who looks like he was built with cardboard boxes in a third grader's garage) with whom to perform. I've never denied his talent or ingenuity, with my only complaint being that his routines eventually turned boring. The projections initially ropes me in, but it's a bad sign when I focus more on the typing than the performance.
Heidi lauds how far he's come, and she half-heartedly acknowledges that he raised the bar. Simon calls out the worst robot he's ever seen in his life, but he appreciates that Merrick is unique. Howie praises his personal growth without mentioning this individual segment, and there's no time for Mel.
Mandy Harvey Clears Things Up
The first part of her intro happens in complete silence, to illustrate the craziness that exists in a world absent of sound. Sometimes, she has to close her eyes and clear the clutter away, allowing her to find beauty through her other senses. You don't need to hear because all you need is heart.
It's what I assume is an original song called "Release Me," but I actually Googled the lyrics because it's fantastic enough to not be hers. It's goosebump-inducing, and it'd be the best so far even if you didn't take deafness into consideration. Sometimes, there's an easy reason someone is considered a favorite.
Simon is intent on judging her outside the disability, and this was one of the most brilliant things he's heard in a singing competition. He also compares her to Adele. Howie commends her for making music even more powerful than it already is, while Mel believes Mandy is "everything." Heidi calls it the perfect song and her best so far, and she appreciates that Mandy signed the entire time.
Pompeyo Family Dogs Get Frozen
Fresh off the success of Sara and Hero, the judges have brought back an act that deserved to advance over Celine Tam the last time we did this. The daughter is as cute as any of the pooches as they detail each pup's individual personality, and then we're headed north ... or south.
Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" plays as the dogs prance around in penguin costumes. But, unfortunately, they're all seemingly distracted by something at the front of the stage and none of the tricks go as planned. It's disorganized and lackluster at best, yet they expect us to be amazed by everything even if they're not selling it.
I mean, one of the tricks involves the dogs all walking down a slide. Meh. My awesome Frenchie sleeps about 90% of the day, and his best trick is what we've dubbed his "zombie," and he can slide down a slide. It's uninspiring despite the cuteness, and it's a terrible choice for a wildcard.
Simon blames the animals for not looking like dogs, yet they bring joy to Heidi's heart in a winter wonderland. Howie found it overly chaotic, and Mel calls it messy but adorable.
Diavolo Enters the Coliseum
By this point, we know the creator is a nut job who works these dancers to death, but by god, he's a genius. And that's why they do it. His performers mean everything to him, and so he fights for them, justifying the sacrifice. This time, they are gladiators who step into the arena and prove their grit and determination.
The Russell Crowe-like intro is offset a bit by Harry Styles' "Sign of the Times," while the acrobats dance around on separating and reassembling pyramids (and eventually a half-sphere with holes in it). A man and woman also hang from a spinning ball dangling from the ceiling.
I was expecting a frantic Ancient Rome-inspired battle, but instead it's a rather sleepy performance of people climbing in and out of holes. Their biggest asset has been all the high flying off giant structures, but this was more, well, artistic? It's beautiful, but I can't say it lives up to the expectation.
Heidi offers a "Woooo!" and announcing that they came to win with a million-dollar act, while Mel can only muster her tagline, "What just happened?!?!" Simon is gobsmacked, and he praises their originality and machine-like workmanship. No time for Howie, but the crowd reaction seems to indicate that they may not have been as entertained as the emperor hyped.
Kechi Sings for Her Dreams
The source of the most
tragic inspirational backstory in AGT history is back, and she's bringing the tears in her introduction. Her mother is her best friend, and after hearing of the crash, she prayed, telling her daughter, "It's okay to go. Don't worry about me. One day, we're going to see each other again. Don't worry about me." Now she wants her mom to know she did a great job, and she doesn't have to worry anymore because she's okay. Jesus.
It's a rendition of Frances' "Don't Worry About Me," and despite a terrible note (or two), it's a step up vocally from the last time we saw her. She didn't need her best that night, though she may this time. Look, it's impossible not to love and root for Kechi. But if we're being honest, she's behind others on a technical level.
Howie only wants to hug her, but he's left speechless in the meantime. A tearful Mel praises her confidence and all the hope she offers to all who hear her because she's incredible. Simon calls it her best performance by a clear mile and lauds her growth in a magic moment, and Heidi declares that she ruled the stage like a queen.
Then Tyra asks her to directly address her mother, and there isn't a dry eye in the house.
Light Balance Balances Lights
Tyra's golden buzzer recipient was forced to rely on a dress rehearsal in the live quarterfinals after a technical glitch killed their tech, and they were devastated. They were certain of their pending elimination, and their advancement was a second chance to prove their worth. And now they want to show their families that anything is possible.
Their dance moves still aren't the crispest I've ever seen, but it's so visually stunning that it doesn't matter. The fact that Iluminate exists means there's a market for this, even if I wouldn't necessarily pay to see it, but it's a show. Even if they're not your favorite, it's an act you will remember that belongs in the Top 10.
Simon calls it one of the best live shows he's ever seen, Howie wants to see Light Balance in Vegas, Mel is happy to have had a front-row seat and there's no time for Heidi.
Angelica Hale Closes the Show
I feel weird saying a 10-year-old girl gets the pimp spot, but that's certainly the case for this adorable dynamo. The tot who needed a kidney transplant from her mom when she was 4 has been one of my favorites, even if her first live show performance was a tad bit underwhelming. Hopefully, she's shaken off the nerves and is ready to deliver, even while she sings to her 2-week-old baby sister, Abigail.
It's David Guerra's "Without You," and it's one of those examples where I stop typing to simply watch and enjoy. If you close your eyes, there's no chance you'd guess her age because her raw chops are right there with Johnny Manuel. She does Usher proud, and even if it's not perfection, her lovable personality and politeness fill in any gaps.
Mel thinks the song choice was a bit too brave, but Angelica owned it. Heidi dubs her a phenomenon and her personal favorite, while Simon believes she is the sweetest little thing who delivered a risky but worthwhile performance. Howie thinks she made this night the toughest one yet because she's not good -- she's great.
The show ends with Tyra directing Angelica to sing "vote" in crazy notes, and it's as impressive as anything she did during her actual performance.
11 Enter, Only 5 Can Leave
And there you have it! The semifinal performances come to an end with another strong night, though the favorites have never been clearer. The six most memorable acts are nearly indisputable, though you can certainly rank them in whatever order you like.
Mandy Harvey, Angelica Hale, Colin Cloud, Light Balance and Diavolo deserve to advance, with Kechi challenging for (and possibly winning) the Dunkin' Save. You could make a case for Celine Tam or Christian Guardino on a vocal level, but when you line the trio up, Kechi comes out on top (though I would never count out Celine).
Do you agree with my assessment? Who were your favorites and who do you think came up short? Which acts do you predict will make the Top 10 and do those picks line up with who you think deserves it? Finally, are you rooting against singers as a whole? Or do you think the best should go through, regardless of genre? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)