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America’s Got Talent: Week 6 Recap

agt1On-screen titles proclaim that TIME IS RUNNING OUT. Europe’s infamous The Final Countdown signals the forthcoming conclusion to these tumultuous auditions. Host Nick Cannon rides in a helicopter between the skyscrapers of Los Angeles, welcoming us in his increasingly hoarse voice to another pulse-pounding installment of America’s Got Talent, the national competition series that’s so manufactured that when judge Howie Mandel shows up late, the producers create a backstage adventure for him straight out of This is Spinal Tap.

This week, Mandel, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howard Stern visit L.A., New York and New Orleans on their whirlwind tour of our country’s bravest fame-seekers. Squeezing three highly-populated cities into one episode results in some viewing compromises. A few contestants are given the thumbs up after they’ve been on camera for ten seconds. The spiraling woman floating above the crowd in a hot air balloon was given absolutely zero context. While this recast the performance as a magical non-sequiter, it would’ve been nice for the lady to have her name on-screen. We get a visible hashtag for “MelBHugs,” but the show doesn’t even spare a few letters to identify the astonishing man who swallows a sword before breakdancing.

If that throat-ripping feat isn’t enough for you, the unidentified daredevil was followed by Crash Moreau a.k.a. Captain Explosion. The wizened entertainer takes the judges, the entire studio audience and the A-Team theme song outside so they can see him climb into a glittery box laced with explosives. Emergency vehicles stand by as the box ka-booms into smithereens. Nick Cannon races to the scene in a shot that appears to be a direct echo of Morgan Freeman running over to Brad Pitt in the Se7en climax. The Captain is sprawled out on the ground, miraculously none the worse for wear.

The judges don’t let him advance.

They bring up some great points about the Captain’s showmanship. Last week, David Ferman enhanced his life-threatening stunt by perfectly outlining the danger. It was also an inherently visual thrill, keeping the audience invested through each escalating level of peril. The Captain, on the other hand, disappeared from sight once he climbed in his box. This removed the immediacy of the stakes; while the feat remains impressive, it lacked a crucial human element in the moment. And the guy didn’t once say that he just blew himself.

There were a lot of comedy and novelty acts this round, and these seem to be almost universal non-starters. Barry Kurtz, a 62 year-old in a sparkly jacket introduced himself as a former male stripper and warbled into a microphone like a tone-deaf lounge lizard. Mr. Television, also wearing a sparkly jacket, wheeled out a cardboard TV set to frame his act. His first gag is offering Heidi Klum a date – specifically April 23, 2012. For the second week in a row, a person stomps onstage in a giant animal costume – this time, it’s a man-eating squirrell. An unidentified lady makes eerily convincing animal noises. Abel (apparently the captionist couldn’t understand his last name any better than I could) turned a watering can into a musical instrument. The best *and* worst gags came from retired corrections officer Al Harris who pulled awful prop after prop out of his Mary Poppins bag long after the judges buzzed him off. The highlight: after forgetting about the neon band-aids covering his face, he claims he was stung all over – he took the subway that night, and he ended up on the B train.

The only comedian who sticks the landing is impressionist Jim Meskimen. Strangely, the guy has already built a successful career. I have no idea what he’s doing here with these unknowns, but I guess publicity is publicity.

When it comes to musical performances, we had an earnest turn from Jimmy Rose, a coal miner turned Marine turned country singer. If Howard Stern has his way, Rose’s single Coal Keeps the Lights On will soon be as omnipresent on the radio as Imagine Dragons. Olivia Rox and Chloe Channell are both sweet young ladies with crazy-strong voices, but Channell makes a bigger impression because she expresses a fevered desire to hunt and kill animals (but not the babies). A dance team of little girls named Fresh Faces proves that the spirit of Sparkle Motion lives on. 212 Green, a band of biracial teens, put their own cool spin on Adele’s Rumor Has It.

After some anonymous ice skaters and ribbon dancers, we got SensEtion, which might go down as the act of the night. On the pitch black stage, a quartet of friends wearing white jumpsuits and football helmets danced with four clear cubes. Colored lights projected on their bodies and props in a dazzlingly coordinated way, and their innovate, inventive movements suggested a Michel Gondry music video brought into real life. Heidi Klum was bored, but this one got me the most excited.

agt_2Of course, this wouldn’t be reality television without bizarre relationship drama. Elementary school students Yasha & Daniela dance together with insane amounts of verve and energy. Yasha wears a dapper yellow tie with a black shirt, pants and suspenders, while Daniela wears a revealing Camen Miranda thing that uncomfortably sexualizes the child. During an interview, Yasha, the spitting image of Daryl Sabara in the first Spy Kids movie, says that he’s been dancing with Daniela since they were three, and he hopes that he becomes her boyfriend someday. Daniela bulges her eyes, covers her mouth in horror and declares, “I would not want THIS to be my boyfriend. He’s not my type. He needs to go to the beach and tan.” Yasha diplomatically suggests that they can just be really good friends, but good grief, this little girl just brutally shot down her life-long creative partner on national television. I know kids can be cruel, but Daniela needs a severe injection of tact.

We also had contortionists! Nanny Megan Amigo proves that her spine has the flexibility of a stick of licorice, but she doesn’t have a coherent act together because, in her words, too much structure makes her feel like she doesn’t have enough freedom. There was another duo walking on their shoulders and squeezing into cramped boxes, but the audience hated ‘em and the show didn’t name ‘em.

AGT‘s curious duality is expressed through two early acts featuring out-of-shape shirtless men. First up, Ronald Farnham, in an effort to “inspire people to take their talents” and “find something that they can do that they never thought of”, lobs plungers at the backs of hairy, half-naked dudes. Crucially, he misses seven times before one sticks. You might think that this kind of idea would never work, but later on, three men become audience favorites after they rhythmically slap their hands on the considerable girth of their bloated buddy. They even get the chance to use Nick Cannon as their shirtless instrument. Their success leads me to firmly believe that if Farnham was talented enough to land every single plunger, he might very well have become the next American Idol. Or whatever this show’s winners are called.

America’s Got Talent airs on Tuesdays 8/9 Central on NBC.

Season 7 Episode 6: Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New York City (originally aired July 9. 2013).

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