Welcome, welcome, ladies and gents! The long-awaited moment is finally here.
The painstaking endeavor of whittling down thousands of America's Got Talent
competitors into a questionably worthy Top 10 is complete, and a single performance is all that stands between the remaining acts and the coronation of the season 12 champion.
Will it be a singer? Will it be a crooning ventriloquist? How about dancers, be they aglow or on atop giant contraptions? Could it be our first-ever stand-up comedian? Or will AGT once again go to the dogs?
The one thing we know for sure is it won't be a magician, as the finals are devoid of the genre for the first time in as long as I've been watching. Is this more or less sad than two years ago when the finals consisted of all men but several magicians?
Only time (and your votes) will separate the contenders from the pretenders, but before they hit the stage, let's break down the playlist to determine who has a legitimate shot.
Lineup and Projections
Let's start with the singers, seeing as how they make up half the field. Angelica Hale and Mandy Harvey have the "wow moment" potential of this bunch, and as such, they're the only two with the potential to win it all. So for them, it comes down to song choice and show placement.
Kechi Okwuchi has an amazing story and a good voice, but she barely made it out of the semifinals and has seemingly peaked. Likewise, we know exactly what we're getting from Chase Goehring at this point. And while his best is great, even a WGWG would be hard-pressed to overtake the likes of Mandy. When it comes to Evie Clair, well, I know I'll be crying.
Dancers Light Balance and Diavolo are visually spectacular feasts for the senses, but I know I'll complain that the former isn't crisp enough and the latter not high-flying enough. Still, either could surprise.
Preacher Lawson is a quality funny man, provided he's got another 20 minutes of material to cram into five, while Sara and Hero will jump and flip around with some sort of enjoyable theme. They're fun and lovable, but they're no Olate Dogs.
That leaves the clear frontrunner as Darci Lynne Farmer, whose semifinal performance is arguably the best of the season. Can she top it? We know she can belt out the big notes beautifully without moving her lips, and she can write and deliver quality banter. For me, it's the stuff she does when she's not singing that will determine if she's the complete package. But for now, she's the one to beat.
Who are you pulling for and which acts do you consider to be in the running? As always, titles aren't won on paper, so let's get this party started!
Angelica Hale Kicks Things Off
After a 10-minute recap of the flavor of season 12 -- because only 10 acts mandates filler in the performance portion of the finale -- Angelica Hale is up first. The unfortunate placement seems to indicate an aversion to back-to-back singing kid winners, but we'll see what she has in store.
Following an intro, during which she writes a letter to new baby sister Abigail, the 10-year-old dynamo launches into a rendition of Clean Bandit's "Symphony." I'm not familiar with the song, and while there are plenty of typical Angelica highs, I'm not sure it was the best choice to show off her full range in a memorable fashion. It's not bad, by any means, but am I going to remember it two hours from now?
Heidi calls her a 4-foot-tall giant and the best singer in the competition, while Howie dubs it the way to close a show, not open it. Mel praises her poise and confidence, and Simon declares her in it to win it before comparing her to some huge pop artists.
Chase Goehring Keeps It Going
The fact that two singers are slated one-two on the docket doesn't bode well for either, and Chase is continuing his trend of original songs. He often felt like an outsider growing up, and music was his refuge. He faced self-doubt and obstacles along the way, but now it's all paying off as he performs before all of America.
It's one of those times I stop typing and simply enjoy the performance, which is probably his best and includes his longest stretch of rapid-fire speak singing (I guess it's rap?). It's radio ready and shows off his unique strengths, as well as his superior songwriting ability. He puts the spotlight on what he does best and then ups that aspect of his game, which is how you stick in the minds of voters.
Heidi believes viewers connect with his music no matter what happens with the results, and Simon "bloody loved it." Howie again compares him to the love child of Ed Sheeran and Logic, and while Mel had a love/hate relationship with Chase in the beginning, now she gets it and is a fan.
Sara and Hero are Happy to Be Here
Sara found Hero at a low point in her life, and they saved each other as they survived to chase her dreams. They've always been a buttload of fun, and remembering that Simon had to lobby for them after their audition is a testament to continued improvement. But is being lovable enough?
I'm can't quite pinpoint the theme, but it starts with Hero freeing Sara from a futuristic glass box of emotions. The spinning and jumping are of course similar to what we've seen, but I feel a distinct lack of excitement and enthusiasm compared to previous performances. There are as many mistakes as during the lifeguard rescue, including a jump rope snafu, but I didn't seem to notice or care last time. Here, I feel it.
At least the end is exciting, where Hero launches himself through the air to grab a dangling bone on his way down into a ball pit.
Simon somehow found it incredible and stunning all around, like pure magic that leaves him speechless. Mel was excited by the fast and furious, and even though it wasn't perfect, she enjoyed it. Heidi calls Sara the real hero, while Howie dubs them the epitome of AGT.
Diavolo Seeks New Heights
These dancers are the real deal and easily a million-dollar act, but the journey has been hard for diabolical mastermind Jack. This final performance is the culmination of a dream, and they'll walk on stage like a wounded army to fight for their lives. They're fired up, but all I know is they'd better not build me up into a Roman gladiator frenzy and then deliver an artistic snoozer.
The props this time are a doorway and a segmented ramp, followed by the original swaying ship ride with which they initially won us over. It's beautiful, but I'm waiting on the edge of my seat for a pinnacle wow moment that never comes. I'm literally leaning forward, muttering, "C'mon. Wow me already. Show me that one AcroArmy-type move!"
Mel doesn't know where to start because they've never been less than extraordinary. But this time, they topped themselves. Heidi hopes everyone gets to watch them live because TV doesn't do it justice. Simon compares watching them to looking at the inside of a watch because of their precision and perfect unison. Howie backs up Heidi's point that television doesn't capture the height and danger. They're right because it was lacking for me.
Evie Clair Breaks Your Heart
We all know the backstory, and she's fighting to the end, just like her dad. It's amazing if she can find any sort of composure to get through this because I'm not even going to bother.
There has never been a contestant on America's Got Talent who has brought more tears to my eyes, and her rendition of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" is no exception. It's uniquely Evie and another spectacular song choice, and she could not possibly have done better. I mean, seriously, I'm a blubbering mess over here.
Howie offers America's heart and soul to Evie and her family, and he applauds her strength and hope. Mel is positive that her father is looking down and proud, while Heidi calls her brave and wishes her the best. Simon calls it a perfect tribute that he refuses to judge, and he says the silence of the crowd shows how much we're all feeling with her.
Preacher Lawson Brings Highs to the Lows
Because tragedy loves comedy, they're making the stand-up comedian follow the greatest tear-jerking moment of the entire season. Seems fair. His intro is a family meal with Mom and the siblings, where they recount his humble beginnings and the fact that his brothers never found him funny. It's heartwarming -- in the way stand-up comedy is?
There's a brief shtick with Tyra, before he recounts an encounter with a homeless man dancing naked on a trash can. It's good for a chuckle or two, but there aren't any rip-roaring moments. It's also odd that he stays on one topic the whole time, which is a first for him. The big highlight is an extended physical comedy bit where he imitates the crazy guy, which loses me in its length.
I have to give him props for the final quip, though, where he points out that his favorite part of telling the joke is that half the crowd is rolling with laughter while the folks right next to those people are screaming, "How long he going to do this for?" I'm in that camp, and the acknowledgement made me snort.
Howie calls Preacher absolutely everything inspiring about comedy, while Mel's cheeks hurt because she could watch him do stand-up all night long. Simon is sure Preacher's life is about to change, and this wasn't a risk because it was memorable. Heidi didn't love the material, but she's a fan of his physical nature.
Kechi is a True Survivor
Her intro comes courtesy of a mother who lost both her children in the plane crash, and she calls Kechi a walking angel who offers hope and inspiration to all. She ends by saying, "I love you, Kechi, and I wish you the very best," a sentiment echoed by everyone who has witnessed her amazing journey.
She's singing Estelle's "Conquer," and to be honest, it's almost completely forgettable. Kechi has one or two great moments on the big notes, but by and large, she blends in with the backup singers and is nearly indiscernible except for those few big moments.
Simon loves everything about her, calling this an anthem instead of a song. Heidi echoes it, dubbing Kechi truly unforgettable among all who have graced the AGT stage. Howie calls it a perfect choice, and he lauds her for being a survivor. Mel is happy Kechi is here because she is adored by and inspires so many. And she was worried at the beginning, but then Kechi brought it home when she needed to.
Darci Lynne Brings Out the Big Guns
She's only been doing ventriloquism for two years, and now she's in the finals of America's Got Talent. During her intro, she shows videos of everyone getting into the genre because of her, and it's nice to see she can have this kind of impact. But now she has to deliver.
She's got Petunia and Oscar this time, with the shy mouse twice fainting over the sheer volume of the audience. The puppets banter back and forth before the trio performs "With a Little Help From My Friends" (with "A mouse and a bunny singing a song written by two Beatles" being the funniest quip), and even with a pair of misspeaks, it's simply incredible.
As a warning, I have to reiterate something I've said in previous years regarding Paul Zerdin and Kenichi Ebina's final performances, that something like this can appear so seamless that you forget its difficulty. To us, it looked like three characters interacting and singing together. But remember, it was one person doing all that.
Mel lauds her poise and predicts she could win this thing, while Heidi points out her "it" factor and star potential. Simon declares that he just witnessed the start of a career and that she will win, and Howie believes she delivered a complete performance.
Mandy Harvey Hears the Music
She's the one who could push Darci Lynne, as a deaf singer who mixes the emotional backstory with the sheer talent that allows you to forget it. Her intro is her sitting in a chair, signing, as she recounts her path from losing everything she cherished into realizing that the best was still to come.
It's another original song, this one about moving on and overcoming obstacles. It's stunning and encapsulates everything we love about Mandy, and has anyone else noticed how she's glammed up in recent weeks? She is absolutely deserving of winning, but the danger of similar original songs is that it makes it difficult to differentiate between them.
Simon's roller coaster of emotions has him feeling like he's in a washing machine, and he raves over how current Mandy sounds despite not having ever heard any contemporary music. Howie believes the theme of the night is strength, while Mel is constantly amazed that Mandy can sound so good without being able to hear herself. That being said, this wasn't her favorite song, and there's no time for Heidi.
Is that combo something that will hurt her chances? I hope not, but it's worth noting that we just heard the only bit of criticism uttered by any judge this evening. And then Heidi didn't get a chance to rebut it.
Light Balance Closes Out the Show
Tyra's golden buzzer gets the final pimp spot, and this once-poor group of Ukrainians is hoping to capitalize. There was so much darkness in their lives, and dance was the way to bring light. It was a crazy dream, but it gave them hope and something for which to work towards. Now they never want to see their children struggle like they did.
It's wildly entertaining, with all their best characters (including the wolf DJ) and some astounding new visual tricks. But, shockingly, the dance moves lack a crispness and, in fact, it's actually a little sloppier than usual. So they've upped their game, yes, but there's also a downgrade in the timing and lack of unison.
Simon begs a venue to give them a show, Heidi calls it perfection, Mel deems it their best by far and Howie found it magical. And there you have it, folks!
Time to Vote
The significant performances of season 12 are in the books, and all that's left to do is pick the best. It's a clear three-act race with Darci Lynne, Mandy Harvey and Light Balance in the running, and the show placement reflects the obvious.
For me, Darci is the clear winner. Mandy Harvey is deserving, but her unique talent also makes it difficult to have a breakout moment like Darci did in the semifinals. And while Light Balance earned their place in the conversation, their inability to stay in perfect unison has plagued them from day one.
Who are you rooting for and which acts do you believe can win? Who stepped up their game and who disappointed you? Finally, how impressive was the poise of Evie Clair to perform under the most difficult of circumstances? (I'm sure it was a decision born out of necessity, summed by her "fighting to the end" comment. Either way, I hope I never again have to cry like that over a reality TV contestant. It was brutal, and I applaud her strength.) Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)