In its nine past seasons, “America’s Got Talent” has set itself apart as the most unique and eclectic talent competition on television, and for millions of fans, tonight’s May 26 premiere could not hit airwaves fast enough. Third year judge, Mel B, wasn’t giving away more than a glimpse of the highlights on her “Today Show” appearance this morning, something that certainly struck fear in the heart of Howie Mandel on the playback, but more special moments were ahead. Season 10 started out from the first step going out-of-the-box and beyond all counterparts in proving that talent exists in all kinds of people, even outside of the familiar phrase “the whole package.”
Ten years is momentous for any show in today’s market of ratings having to rack up big scores, so the bar is set already high for this season. New Jersey felt the love flowing from the stage to the panel, as Nick Cannon introduced a new feature, the reincarnation of the Golden buzzer, which will not just redeem an act, as in the past, but will put them through automatically to the live stage at Radio City Music Hall. Something that precious wouldn’t be put into play so early, would it?
Dance duo, Elin and Noah, kicked off the night, packing a powerhouse of dance punch into their pint-size six and seven-year-old bodies. They took “Hammer time” for all it was worth in their “Can’t Touch This” routine, complete with the most captivating “attitude face” that any little girl ever conjured. It was unanimous love from the panel, Howard Stern loving the two, despite saying, “I have diabetes from all this.” Howie remarked that they performed his “philosophy of life” (i.e. “can’t touch this”) to chuckles, so these cuties have more stage time to come. Trio, Triple Threat, definitely don’t have the look of any “Tiger Beat” or “Seventeen” magazine boy band, and even before they sang a note, they got negative feedback from a microphone squeal, and more than a few doubting looks from the judges and the audience. Once the accompaniment tape kicked in, and their voices united in singing MKTO’s “Classic,” though, every sneer silenced, as the big sound created by the three took over the room, ending in four standing ovations from the judges. Howie Mandel praised them as “a real boy band,” and Howard Stern said “you guys are beautifully nerdy.” They displayed genuine humbleness for their reception, too, taking in the moment with loving points of appreciation. These Arkansas guys surprised everyone, so don’t be surprised if they stay a while! More surprises came with puppet singer, Ira Fennelblum, and his puppet mom, Miriam. Something in the sweetness of his song, “You Are so Beautiful,” sung especially to his professed love, Mel B, truly touched everyone, except the lady herself, who gave him a “No” even after giving him a kiss. The act still goes on with three yeses, one from Heidi Klum, who said she felt like “chopped liver.” Both Howard and Howie were moved by the “heart and honesty” in the performance.
Hypnotist, Chris Jones, said before his appearance on stage that he was out to “get Howie over his germ thing.” He came out with a simple premise, relating how he was a huge fan of “Bobby’s World,” and getting Mandel’s focus on an imaginary clock in his hand. In an instant, Howie was totally under, and so was a young lady in the audience. Jones told the judge that he was wearing gloves, and the consciously germaphobic panelist was unconsciously fine with shaking hands! When Heidi asked if an instruction could be given to get Howie over his issues completely, the auditioning contestant wrote on paper for Howie to “go to sleep,” and he began shaking hands with all his fellow judges, whom he was told were wearing thin gloves. Howard Stern changed his early X to complete approval, and Mel B and Heidi became instant fans. Howard said that because Mandel “is going to kill you anyway” after seeing the tape, that vote didn’t matter. Jones will have to come up with something even more dramatic next time! An incredible flipping dancer will be moving on, too, and so will German and Czechoslovakian gymnasts, Showproject, who hoisted themselves onto the high bars for some of the most purely precise and powerful routines ever attempted in the competition’s history, including 4-man push-ups and straight up bounces into position on the bars. Mel B called them “spectacular” and Heidi give them “zumpjec” approval in German, along with the guys’ vote to unanimous moving ahead. A really big dance troupe in black and red showed their best to move on, as did a dad and daughter acrobat team, and a tumbling act only performing for two days. Johnny Shelton had come to performing out of love for his craft, and also for his young son, who passed away from cancer at just five years old. As the singer-songwriter sang the first lines of his original, and oh so personal composition, “That’s Love,” a hushed and reverent silence swept the auditorium. This is the kind of performance that only this competition could offer. This was a performer who would never fit into the “whole package” mentality of competitions crafted for popular culture. This was a father who had the gift of his life, his art, and his voice to give to his son, and the world. The panel was moved to tears, as Howard called him “a real artist” and Howie eloquently spoke of how his son was in the room, feeling the love. America will have the chance to feel Shelton’s “something special” as Mel B described, in other performances. Moments like his make the entire competition worthwhile.
Magic Dragon, Piff, probably seemed like an early write-off as a joke to more than one person, marching out in his costume and crazy nameplate prop, but this polite, British magician is as funny as he is gifted in getting things to disappear, like Heidi’s chosen seven of spades card, until he rubbed it back into being, and said she could keep it for “just $12.” Howie and Howard were in complete stitches laughing, and Mel B said he shared her “silly, stupid, crazy” sense of humor. He ate a banana while getting feedback as “phenomenal and wonderful,” and still begged for eight dollars to get home. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but different enough to definitely stay a while, Piff. Howard and Nick proved their friendship under pressure of lie detector tests, just before a failed whoopee cushion performance, and a knife-throwing pirate couldn’t hit his target, or anything else, for that matter. A giant, sexy baby was just plain creepy, and soon disappeared, as did his diaper. Siro-A stirred the panel to rousing approval, along with the audience, with their animation dance that made 5 people seem like an army against bright, colorful screens. Howie raved that they were already ready for the big stage, so these yeses were just the beginning. Somehow, even professional cuddler, Samantha Hess, had something special enough to get through, inspiring a huge, stacking hug for Nick Cannon on a couch. It’s hard to see this one going anywhere in Vegas, though.
“America’s Got Talent” held to its tradition of unforgettable finishes, as Drew Lynch, came to the stage as last performer of the night. He described how a sports injury left him with a stutter, and a life situation to re-create himself as a new person, one who was willing to share with others, instead of feeling that they were blessed just to talk to him. Describing his mission to turn any situation to a positive, Drew took the stage, and quickly got the crowd captivated with his innovative routine of a stuttering GPS voice, and self-effacing response to detractors. His girlfriend was among those cheering and the audience, and judge, Mel B, got delight seeing Drew laugh at his own joke. Everyone was impressed with Lynch’s command of the stage, but Howie was moved enough to do something more. Judge Mandel pressed the Golden buzzer, putting Drew straight through to the live shows, and saying he was already worth the million dollars, and he couldn’t wait to see more. The young comedian fell to his knees in grateful awe and golden confetti. Heartfelt seems hardly fitting to capture so much emotion. This young man’s punch lines, and the promise of his future, are worth the wait.
Season 10 continues next Tuesday on NBC.