The “America’s Got Talent” judges’ panel has to do the toughest work to earn those big paychecks at this juncture of the competition, making truly painful cuts to the pool of talents, and trim down to a highly select assortment for live performances at Radio City Music Hall. This week’s July 28 performances already were prime offerings, and Marlon Wayans was Howie Mandel’s invited guest judge, chauffeured by taxicab, and unfortunately, delayed by a few fares along the way. Marlon got his wish of being spooned by Mel B, but many of the wishes of the hopeful talents were left unfulfilled at the end of the night, as others dreamed of the Vegas strip. It wasn’t long before Mr. Wayans found gold, but he wished for his buzzer later, too.
One of the reasons that the “In Living Color” star said that he was happy to be part of the show was that he was glad to clear up the constant identity mix between him and host, Nick Cannon. That issue aside, Arkansas natives, singing trio, Triple Threat, turned their stage presence up several notches with “Problem,” putting some testosterone on the Arianna Grande/Iggy Azalea tune, and pleasing the audience like punch on a summer day. These boys prove that charisma isn’t always about the physical package, and more about personality. Mel B was pleased with how they “locked in” with their harmonies, and Marlon Wayans was captivated by these “nerdy white guys” being so awesome. Howard Stern started in on how girls don’t usually go for this type of boy band, but they spoke up for themselves, letting him know that they were getting plenty of “reaching out” from the female fans on Twitter. Heidi Klum called them “nerdy and adorable.” A slew of dance crews came next, including the Honor Roll Skate Crew, The Squad, and Evoke Tap Movement, all of whom blew the socks off the judges, but then, Animation Crew came on, dressed in red sparkle jackets, holding guitars, and launching into a music box version of the Jackson 5 classic, “I’ll Be There,” and switching to robotic moves with complete mastery, making Marlon Wayans say that he thought “your heart was going to pop out of your chest” in those pop ‘n lock touches. Dolls Love, otherwise known as strong gymnast, Oleskiy, and his mannequin partner, with whom he spends so much of his time, were back. There is no doubt that this skill of dance and interaction with a lifeless being takes talent, but perhaps Howard Stern put it best saying, “this is a weird act, man,” with weird being the word that came to Marlon and the other judges. Howie playfully said that the performer’s wife was “home naked” while he dressed his partner! Mel B found the performance “funny.”
Johnny Shelton, who stood out with giant heart through his audition, performing the song he wrote for his departed son, Preston, lost to cancer, promised to bring the same heart in this performance, and all but one of them felt it come through on “The House That Built Me.” Howard Stern said “you make me feel it,” following the song, and Heidi Klum felt the emotion. Judge Wayans even said that he reflected on his growing up memories in the projects through Shelton’s soulful vibe. Mel B said she felt “a disconnect,” but her fellow judges, and the audience, expressed disagreement. Howie Mandel told the singer-songwriter that “I hear your soul,” not anything else, through the performance. An embrace from his dad capped the performance, and with his gift of expressing that soul, Shelton will have new hearts willing to listen. Dana Daniels has a special relationship with his bird, Luigi. His magic act is playful and charming, but the panel felt it was not so suited for “America’s Got Talent.” Ventriloquist, Paul Zerdin, had everything going, taking the stage with a whisper, carrying his sleeping “baby,” who demanded a bedtime story, upon waking. “Little Red Riding Hood” would never do, and hilarity ensued, as baby demanded that the animal character be a yellow fluffy duck! Children and parents in the audience were delighted and laughter as “duck” became the operative word before the baby gave a spray of his own! The panel was all praise, Howard Stern saying that Zerdin was “a cartoon come to life” and Wayans going for gold, hitting his buzzer. The guest judge said he wanted to share the joy that he felt watching the ventriloquist, and the ventriloquist had no words other than “Thank you.” Mentalist, Oz Pearlman, how did himself, presenting a book of female star names for Howard, and one of male movie stars for Howie. In almost no time, he surmised that Howie’s envisioned star was Tom Cruise, in the movie “Top Gun.” Pearlman not only guessed Howard’s pick of Oprah Winfrey, he snipped out her exact likeness with scissors! Never has any mind performer pulled things off quite so perfectly. “WOW” was the unanimous response.
Singer, Brittney Allen, and Paul Blair and his hula hoops, both had performances that were big letdowns from their auditions. Pretty Big Movement put their hearts into their new routine, but the judges, apart from Mel B, felt it was “less than” their audition performance. It was a crushing blow, but these ladies are too good to lose heart. Stacey Kay and her band were so good that they scared most of the competition, and the Mountain Faith Band was just delighted to have dad playing with them this time. They tore into “A Thing Called Love,” and even non-bluegrass folks, Marlon, were head-bopping and finger tapping along. The audience became the chorus of “put them through,” so the panel felt the people. Howard Stern seemed uncertain of their future. Randy Roberts was as drop-dead gorgeous as any drag queen could be, singing “The Lady Is a Tramp,” prompting Marlon to run interference on the stress of performing in heels and pantyhose! Vita Radionova did things with her body that no one with bones should be able to do, not to mention being sexy as all get out while doing them. She captivated everyone watching, and Wayans wished for his buzzer again. Girl power came on strong in dance and martial arts with Cailyn and Haley, their mom pulling all the way. The judges marveled at their prowess.
The final act was Benton Blount, and the stay-at-home dad did a fine job singing Dolly Parton’s iconic, “Jolene,” so much so that Marlon said he would buy that album. Howard Stern called it “solid,” and Heidi loved the rough around the edges vocals. Howie Mandel told Benton that he had “delivered.”
Deliberations went long and hard, with only six slots offered. Howard admitted that there were “too many great musical acts,” and tears flowed from every genre and generation. The final selections were Oz Pearlman, Vita Radionova, Mountain Faith Band, Triple Threat, Animation Crew, and in a heartbreaker vote between Shelton and Blount, Benton Blount took the slot. Wouldn’t a show with both these voices be something?
Next week is the fourth and final judges’ cut, with Piers Morgan returning. The competition airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays on NBC.