The Scott Brothers on "America's Got Talent." (NBC )
When "America's Got Talent" took a break for the Olympics at the end of July, the number of contestants had been cut down to manageable-to-remember 16.
Now, two weeks after its return, with tangential rounds devoted to YouTube "talents"and wild card picks, the show is back up to an overwhelming 24.
Now, over the next two weeks, "AGT" will cut the 24 down to six and the finals will well, finally begin. Host Nick Cannon referred to this week's episode as the "first semi-finals." This is just reality TV stringing-along an audience and we've all unfortunately grown to accept it.
First to the stage was Andrew De Leon, who sang "Ave Maria" as opera-like as he could. The judges seemed a bit cynical and bored by his gimmick all of a sudden. Sharon suggested removing his creepy contacts, which is a terrible idea. He should maybe dip into another genre though. Like, take on an Iron Maiden song or something and really wow the crowd.
Ventriloquist and kind-of-comedian Todd Oliver and Irving were up next, this time riffing on "The Tonight Show" with Oliver as a softball-question-throwing Leno-like host and Irving as the cackling guest. The jokes were -- once again -- cute instead of funny. People love this dopey duo, though.
At one point, Irving referred to Stern as his "father," which was Horse's bit for awhile there. It was a reminder that Horse, the working class goof who got hit in the nuts, has been eliminated and it made me want to stop watching the show for a second. What if I just typed random characters until season's end in protest of Horse's absence?
Genuinely amazing acrobats Donovan and Rebecca did a series of non-stop "how'd they do that" feats of strength and flexibility. Be it the space-age "Barbarella" vibes of so much of their set designs or the fact that Donovan looks like some lost '80s straight-to-video body-building action star, they feel like a duo out of time, which makes them even more charming.
Stern, more of a grump than usual, said their act didn't translate well on TV, which is one of these things the judges seem to say when they don't know what else to say or are trying to nudge the voters away from a certain act. How would Stern, sitting there in person, know how the viewing audience is perceiving the performance?
Orthodox pop piano prodigy Edon performed a rousing rendition of One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" -- all quiet-loud-quiet dynamics and belted-out vocals -- that left the audience chanting his name. He deserved it.
The Scott Brothers got heady, with a set design that referenced Pop Art sculptor George Segal and music that invoked '80s electro. But it was still just two goons doing a glorified version of "the Robot" dance.
Then, Eric Dittelman showed up and blew minds again. His trick this time was to have Howard color in a caricature of himself with different colored markers and then, give himself devil horns and a pointed moustache .
Once Howard was done, Dittelman revealed his version of the drawing, which of course, matched up exactly with Howard's color scheme. This charming, smarmy, possibly magical nerd better make it through.
Contortionist dancer Turf did his thing, with a little more dancing between all the bendy twists and dislocations. It's a fun act but he has maybe stretched it to its limits.
That half-praise is more than you can say for country singer Bria Kelly, whose efficient cover of Pink's "Perfect" -- another reminder of how wretched this year's YouTube round ended up being.
Then it was smug, hippie-dippie sandman Joe Castillo, who created a hamfisted celebration of unity awkwardly scored to the Youngbloods' "Get Together." The '60s rock classic, which lunges forward on the hook and then slows down again, seemed to simply play in the background, never lining up or adding energy to his sappy sand art.
Earth harpist William Close did the yeah yeah yeah, totally amazing thing he does, but it wasn't all that interesting this time around. We've seen it before and you're either totally on board or beginning to get bored by it. The judges all overcompensated him with praise because he's maybe the only actually valid Vegas act.
Comedian Tom Cotter, who had the fortune of going after amateur Todd Oliver, crafted a slightly deceptive "comedy on-demand" game with the judges in which he gave them a list of topics to pick from, and then performed a routine based on the subject they chose.
In other words, he developed a few 90-second bits, gave the illusion of thinking on his feet, but he's funny and crowd-pleasing, and it implicitly showed up Todd Oliver's inability -- adorable dog or not -- to cobble together an actual comedic act.
Do you like Black Eyed Peas-esque hip-hop dancing? Are you into mimes? And how about the meaty aggressive drops of dubstep? Well if you're a fan of all three of those things, and don't mind them all sloppily fused together, you would've loved YouTube round stand-outs Academy of Villains. Me? Not so much.
Tomorrow: the results show, which will undoubtedly be packed with filler, but also some legitimate tension as to who will get through. Remember, it's only three that move on this time.