'America's Got Talent' recap: The top 10 take the stage
After all top 10 acts vying for the "America's Got Talent" finals had performed Tuesday night, Howie Mandel could barely contain himself: Four acts stood out as clear winners, he told us. Then he paused, "Should I say?"
Mandel's fellow judge Sharon Osbourne wouldn't let him tick off his list of favorites ("They have to vote," she remonstrated), but most of us can probably guess which acts Mandel deemed worthy of proceeding to the final four (to be determined solely by audience votes, with no judge picks): shadow-playing kid dance group the Silhouettes, teen pop band Poplyfe, swingin' retro crooner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., and computer-enhanced light-up dancers Team iLuminate.
Each of those acts has not only talent, on display Tuesday night, but also a heartrending, overcoming-adversity story (illness, poverty, broken homes) that will likely make viewers want to cast their votes their way.
That's not to say the night -- which also featured a lovely performance (video above) by last year's winner, singer Michael Grimm, and a strange interlude in which Piers Morgan asked 11-year-old singer Anna Graceman out on a date on behalf of his 10-year-old son (she politely declined, saying she can't date until she's 18) -- didn't include other notable performances:
Miami All Stars: Alas, this team of dancers held back its usual spicy Latin flavor and served up a big slab of American cheese, dressing up as football players and cheerleaders and even bringing along a chicken-headed mascot to flap around the stage. (It's NFL kickoff week -- get it?) The chicken, Piers Morgan dryly informed the dancers, "made you look a bit silly."
Lys Agnes: The beautiful opera singer decided to show us a different side of her voice -- the low side, the rock side -- turning in an eerily mesmerizing performance of Aerosmith's "Dream On" while floating in a giant dream-catcher. The judges compared her to Cher. But while Morgan said he "felt moved" by the song, Mandel and Osbourne wondered whether the vocal switch-up would turn off the voters.
Landon Swank: In a departure from his death-defying stunts these last two weeks, Swank did some stylish, low-key business with a goldfish and a fish tank that he said went off as planned, but I'm pretty sure we were supposed to see that goldfish emerge from Swank's hand and swim around in the tank at the end. The smiling (yet, to my eyes, nervous-looking) magician assured a concerned Osbourne that the fish had not died, but … um … where had it disappeared to? I suspect that fish did not defy death and suggest that, were Swank to make it through despite the act going wrong, it would be his greatest trick yet.
Anna Graceman: The 11-year-old cutie sang Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" while standing on a grassy knoll, abandoning her piano because, she later said, she really wanted to connect with her audience. Connecting with the audience is not Graceman's problem; the low notes are. As Morgan, who compared the singer unfavorably to last season's young Jackie Evancho, noted, Graceman's lower register pales in comparison to her solid, bluesy high notes. That may keep her out of the finals.
The Silhouettes: After plucking our heartstrings with a pre-performance video in which we learned that at least two of the group's young dancers are battling debilitating diseases (juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis) and that the director, who cannot have children, feels "fulfilled" when these kids call her "Mom," the group returned to form with a stirring, Americana-inflected shadow dance about hope and potential and belief. Morgan, the evening's soothsayer, hailed them for telling a story that, in these difficult times, "lifts the heart and makes people proud of being American." Proud enough to pick up the phone to vote, I'd imagine.
Smage Bros. Riding Show: Every time these guys take the stage I get scared, but probably not as frightened as the guy the stunt bikers jump over. This time the poor fellow -- "Smalls," they call him -- got nicked in the head and whomped in the leg, but never lost his good cheer. This performance wasn't quite as spectacular as the last, but it had a certain charm. Nevertheless, I suspect it's the end of the "AGT" road for these homespun bikers.
Poplyfe: Another heartrending backstory: Sixteen-year-old lead singer Kehlani Parrish told us her father died when she was 2 and her mother "had some issues," leaving her to shuttle "from home to home" as she was growing up -- until she found her way into the band, whom she calls her "brothers." "I don't think I love anybody as much as I love them," she said. The band turned in a rocking, if rushed, Jackson 5 medley, proving they have cajones as well as musical chops. Standing O from the judges. Morgan called them a "great pop band."
West Springfield Dance Team: Another zombie dance from the horror crew. Yawn. We've seen it before. The judges woke up long enough to label the act boring and "predictable." The earnest kids promised to step things up next time, but, alas, I don't think there will be a next time.
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.: The cornrowed crooner finally stretched beyond Sinatra, tackling Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" -- backed by a full retro-outfitted band. He knocked it out of the park. Morgan said Murphy was the only act so far he'd shell out his own money to see. Osbourne entreated us to "vote, vote, vote," which, despite Murphy's somewhat startling response when host Nick Cannon asked him if he was mad at him for faking him out during the last results show, I'm guessing viewers will do.
Team iLuminate: Dancer/software engineer/team mastermind Miral Kotb, who has conquered cancer, made a triumphant return to the stage in the dance group's best performance yet, eliciting glowing praise from the judges, and likely securing a spot in the finals.
What do you think? Do you agree with my predictions, or are your picks different? It's getting down to the wire: Weigh in!
-- Amy Reiter
Photo: Silhouttes perform. Credit: Trae Patton / NBC