Judgment Week began last night on Season 9 of "America's Got Talent." All the acts came to New York to participate in the second round of auditions, which could put them in the live shows. But not all of the acts performed, because some were put straight through.
Among those acts: Blue Journey, magicians David and Leeman, Hart Dance Team, Dom the Bom's Triple Threat, Jonatan Riquelme, comedian Dan Naturman, female opera singer Acte II, and musicians Emil & Dariel, with the news delivered in person by the judges. Some great feel-good moments ahead of what was destined to be a week of disappointment: only half of the acts performing in judgment week would go through to the next round.
The first category to come under fire were the Magic acts, which ranged from sleight of hand to big tricks. Mike Super, a mystifier, called up judge Howie Mandel to assist. He used two chalk boards and put chalk between the boards. He asked Howie to think of a name of someone special to him, as he rolled the chalk back and forth. Then he brought host Nick Canon out and asked him to name a random two-digit number, 23. The name Howie gave him, Steve, was revealed on the board, along with a grid of numbers he manipulated to give him 23 no matter what he did. The numbers weren't as impressive as the names, since he probably had memorized a way to reveal the results he wanted, no matter what two-digit number Nick chose.
Psycho Jack, an illusionist, did a version of the girl in a box trick, having a lot of trouble with his props (possibly because his shtick involves wearing a rubber mask that covers his entire head). The judges appeared unimpressed and called him back immediately. Howard Stern told him it was the end of the road for him. On the bright side, he didn't have to wait for his results.
Franklin Saint claimed to use his telekinesis to crush a water bottle and then unbend and fill a soda can. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets knocked by Howard for his lack of showmanship, as the judges had to talk amongst themselves to figure out what it was he was trying to do.
Mat Franco, who does unusual card tricks, did a trick he'd just developed. After having Mel B. choose a card, he "painted" a picture onto the table, consisting of cards with a photo on them of Howie, holding her card!
The next category was Dance. Sean and Luke, tap dancers, incorporated some popping moves into a performance to a different rendition of "New York, New York." Howard felt they weren't memorable, but the others disagreed. It lacked some of the energy and precision of their initial audition.
Solto Esengulov, 19, a street performer, used robotic moves and some belly rolls in a short routine that failed to impress.
Dragon House, "The Agents," were dressed in suits like those worn in the "Men in Black" movies and did animation-style dancing. Those who watch "So You Think You Can Dance" may be familiar with Dragon House, who have produced some of the favorite dancers on the show in recent seasons. Howard, however, expressed concerns that their routines might be too similar from week to week.
Salsa dancers John and Andrew did a performance very similar to when they auditioned. Mel B. called them seamless, although Howie seemed unsure. But the judges called them both back out, and Howie told them they were going to Radio City Music Hall for the live shows.
Next were the Kid Singers. Quintavious Johnson sang Michael Jackson's "Who's Loving You," showing off a pure, clear, bluesy tone. Grace Ann Gregorio sang a classical piece, but the surprise of her initial audition was gone. Mara Justine sang another big diva song, Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing," and belted it all the way through until the end. The judges called her out and put her straight through to the next round, because, as Howard put it, "You were insanely great."
Then it was Julia Godwin, 15 doing "Feeling Good," turned in a precociously emotional performance, given her young age.
Next was Comedy. Darik Santos, the unassuming, sort of geeky-looking guy who reminds me of Emo Phillips in both his delivery and looks. Despite the empty room, he got Howie and Howard to chuckle, and even got a laugh or two from Mel B.
Wendy Liebman, who is 53 and has been doing comedy for more than 25 years, taking time off to raise her family, did a lot of down-to-earth humor about marriage and daily life. Heidi Klum wasn't impressed, but the two comedians pointed out it was a dead room.
Joe Matarese, a 40-something father of young children, did a set focusing on parenting but lacked the charm of his first set. The judges agreed it had lacked jokes.
Then were the Solo Variety acts. First up was Juan Carlos, a dancing roller blader. He was wearing a black glittery outfit and had shaved his big moustache. Without a crowd egging him on, he was just silly and bad. Howard used the opportunity to hammer home to the other judges that they'd been wrong by putting him through.
John Narum does tricks with yo-yos and used glow-in-the-dark ones this time around. At that point, Howard said they might need to be easier on the variety acts when it came to expecting them to change it up every week, because it's harder for them than it is for singers to just sing a new song.
Wild West showman Loop Rawlins was back with more tricks involving fire, this time spinning flaming pistols and a flaming rope. Still impressive!
J.D. "The Iceman" Anderson and Mighty Atom Jr. were both strong man acts. Mighty Atom Jr. pulled a 5,000-pound truck with the four judges inside, and The Iceman folded up a frying pan and then crashed head first into a stack of ice blocks, shattering them and getting a little cut on the back of his head.
The Female Singers started off with singer-songwriter Emily West, who has a 1940s movie-star look. She'd had a record contract with a country label, but that fell through. She delivered a smoldering performance of Roy Orbison's "You Got It," the empty room clearly being no problem for her.
Then, Carlo Jo Jackson, who has been performing in coffee shops, took the stage, accompanying herself on a ukelele. She sang "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye, in a sweet performance that very much sounded like it belonged in a coffee shop.
Anna Clendening had been featured in an audition episode because of her struggles with anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, she was having a panic attack before her audition for Judgment Week, with her running off just before a cut for a commercial break. But she got some support and pulled it together enough to perform, getting a pep talk from Howie before singing "Radioactive."
Returning contestant Kelli Glover was cut before the live rounds last year and begged for another chance. This time she felt more confident about her performance of "Warrior." We'll have to see when the results are announced which singer will succeed.