Every season, the start of the “America’s Got Talent” semifinals marks the start of all the dialers’ and clickers’ really difficult decisions. It’s never a matter of any performer deserving to be eliminated at this stage– it’s just a matter of which ones are truly rising to star status. Speaking of stars, Mel B truly took on the persona of Hollywood on the September 1 show, sporting her shades to conceal a nasty eye infection, sending Howie Mandel several yards away, to an audience seat! The start was a little slow, but the second half of the evening held some memorable impressions. Out of 11 performances, only five can be voted as Season 10 finalists, as “best of the best.”
Puppet, Ira, and his mom, Miriam, are always more endearing in their pre-performance profile than in their actual performance, and it was true again, as they prepared everywhere from the boxing ring to the luxury day spa for their big night, but the big time production number was just a little too silly this time, with mom being the love interest on “Copacabana,” and phone calls from neighbors interrupting the number. Mel B summed it up with “not amazing,” while Howie still said the performance embodied “family act fun.” Heidi said that the pair of puppets would have a “tough time tonight,” and Howard Stern sternly gave his X to ax the whole production. They have a place in family fun, but this is the time for farewell to the fuzzy family. Ira was already making a plea for the “Dunkin’ save,” so that’s evidence of the dire situation. Mountain Faith Band made a daring move, doing The Weekend’s hit, “Can’t Feel My Face” in their bluegrass fashion, with mixed reviews. The audience seemed captivated, but the panel, not so much. Howie Mandel missed the moments with the harmonies, saying he didn’t know if this was “big enough” as a performance. Howard agreed with Howie, getting big “BOO’s” from the audience. Mel B said the song was the wrong choice, but that she liked them as a group, and they didn’t need a big moment. Heidi didn’t hear any vocal high notes this time. America loves the homespun vibe of this family band, and their fate is in the votes. The judges’ wildcard pick to make a return was the motocross motorcyclists, Metal Mulisha Fitz Army, and there’s no doubt that these guys are daredevil, but it’s a paradox that the panel always decries doing the same performance again and again, and this was near exactly the same as the audition performance, only with blazing torches, and setting one rider’s jacket on fire. It can be challenging to call it entertainment when EMTs are always on standby. Howard said “you got your due, “Heidi called them “crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy good.” Mel B was again relieved that they remained alive, commending their skill. Howie Mandel said that “no risk, no reward’ was a mantra that paid off in this case.
The last time Samantha Johnson was on stage, she endured a vote for a save that surprised everyone. Tonight, the stunning singer prompted the first wow moment of the night with her rendition of another offering from The Weekend, this time, “Earned It.” Samantha showed why she earned this opportunity before America, building drama in the sultry, loving song before building to a perfect close with her soaring voice. Mel B and Heidi Klum joined with the audience in standing ovations, Howie Mandel complemented that she had taken the competition to another level with that performance, Howard called her “real singer,” Mel B praised that she was a pro who had a triumphant moment. Masterful magician, Derek Hughes, took on the persona of doting dad in his performance in pajamas, reading a bedtime story to his young boys. His paraphrased poem of Humpty Dumpty perfectly illustrated, and then ripped to bits, ended perfectly put together again, with a smiling Humpty at the end. It was tender moment and terrific magic, and Hughes deserves his dream of supporting his family without so much travel on the road. This journey should earn that, and the panel appreciated the sweetness and the mastery. Howard saw that it displayed range, and Howie saw “beauty, artistry, and magic.” Mel was “sleepy” and ready for bed herself. Drew Lynch is amazed and truly moved and honored by how his performances have encouraged and inspired so many to boldly on their own challenges and be themselves. The stuttering comic described how just last week, he performed at a school cafeteria, and now he is a semifinalist at Radio City Music Hall. His routine tonight built to a beautiful, comedic climax of “being two weeks late, and I’m not a woman” while in a conversation with a bill collector. This young talent writes as well as he delivers, and his punchlines are worth the wait. Howie Mandel beamed with being “so proud” of the strength Drew shows, Heidi loves the fun he has, and Mel B wished he had more time for jokes. Howard said it didn’t need to laugh at his jokes, but what’s so wrong with celebrating being himself. No matter the vote, Drew has a new beginning.
The CraigLewis Band delivered an incredible rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” with harmonies that hit down to the soles of everyone’s shoes. They won the night’s only straight across ovation from the panel, with heart Stern giving them a welcome into the finals, and saying “you’ve arrived.” Heidi Klum called them a truly dynamic duo, and Howie said that the duo looked great and sounded great while they made him feel like he was at church, even if he doesn’t know what that feels like. Mel B felt something was lacking, so maybe be infection spread to her ears. Oz Pearlman played drink master tonight, playfully allowing himself to be “blindfolded” by Heidi Klum’s hands, saying, “life is good,” and proceeding to guess all the Howard Stern was consuming onstage, and even guessing what Mel B likes to drink on vacation, and what Howie likes to pretend taste. No one can question his mentalist skills, so will America feel them? Benton Blount did another heartfelt turn on a hit, this time “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. The panel all heard his heart, with fresh motivation from news of a new baby coming, but none was certain if that was enough. Heidi did praise that it was “a perfect song” for Benton.
Animation dancers, Siro-A had the panel raving again, loving the flash and imagination, but at some point, in this era of all that technology brings, it reeks of talent with to heart, flashy, but with no feel. Nonetheless, their standing ovations may move them along. Arielle Baril gave the evening’s final performance, defying her chronological age of 12 once more, taking on the highest operatic order in “Nessum Dorma.” Heidi told the young prodigy, “you check all the boxes” and Howie Mandel reminded her of what a height it was that she attained in being on stage with “the best of the best.” Howard Stern said that Arielle had closed “a spectacular night,” and that he marveled at her age while listening to her with eyes closed.
Part hope, part practically sure, here are picks for performers moving to the finals: Mountain Faith Band, Drew Lynch, Samantha Johnson, CraigLewis Band, and Siro-A, with Oz Pearlman on the bubble.