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America’s Got Talent Review: Quarterfinals Week 4

agt1It’s been a month since I took up the reins of Poptimal’s America’s Got Talent coverage. In the beginning, it was light and fluffy. The contestants stood on equal ground. The men, women, girls, boys and cute puppy dogs with genuine skill advanced to the next level while the hacks and stinkers slipped into the darkness with the considerable consolation prize of appearing on national television.

But now, we’re in a realm of high pressure and higher stakes. The pool of performers shrinks with every episode as people who are damn good at their craft receive heart-crushing dismissals from the American public. One million dollars hangs in the balance, and as every singer, dancer, comedian, magician and musician takes the stage for their shot at fame, I’m as tense as I am during a Breaking Bad season finale. These are real-life human beings giving it their best shot, and far too often, they miss the mark.

How does it feel to fail on live TV? We see actors and actresses lose Academy Awards every year. Meryl Streep won Best Actress instead of Viola Davis. Alan Arkin nabbed Best Supporting Actor out of Eddie Murphy’s hands. For Best Actor, Sean Penn topped Bill Murray, then returned to trounce Mickey Rourke.

But every single one of those names is recognizable. These thespians are routinely paid thousands, if not millions, to hit their marks and say the right words. There’s an entire industry of personal assistants and handlers catering to their every whim. Even after they’re dead and buried, newborn cineastes will be discovering their bodies of work for decades. They’re going to live forever.

But what about David Ferman, the danger artist who juggled flaming orbs above a barrel of gasoline while he was upside down? If I saw someone doing that on my way to work, I’d halt my progress and stare in wonder. But David’s not an attraction on the sidewalk; he’s part of a competition with millions of spectators, and his daredevil antics aren’t enough to see him through to the end.

11 year-old singer Chloe Channell came inches from tonight’s finish line. She faltered for a second during her song, and the judges immediately called her on it. Backstage, she cried into the camera as her parents hugged her, terrified that she’d ruined her chances. Is she dwelling on that minor hiccup, cursing her weak lungs and faulty throat? Or is this a preteen trauma that will go away once adolescence hits?

Then there’s Tummy Talk. In their audition, three men drummed on a fat man’s shirtless body. Everyone except Howard Stern loved it. On Tuesday, they stepped it up and added both razzle and dazzle to the proceedings. More drums! Choreography! A boxing ring! Howie Mandel sounded his buzzer, and America followed suit. These guys put on a hell of a show, but it was all for naught.

One by one, the ranks thinned. Rock band The Robotix had a weak lead singer. Videomapping dancers SensEtion didn’t have a story to accompany their confusingly random routine. The 3Penny Chorus and Orchestra added considerable class to Taylor Swift, but the vocals were drowned out by the music. The Aerial Ice team skated indoors and spun above an artificial mat while Champions Forever, an enormous family of circus-like performers, rode on impossibly high unicycles in unison. Both acts were stunning. Neither made it through.

That’s a lot of losers.

This week’s time-filling skit brought back prop comic Al Harris, a contestant who received universal animosity, but continued his set over every objection. We see him rattling off puns to the senile denizens of a retirement home, and we have to wonder: is this what he wants to be doing, or what he’s settled for?

The answer comes immediately. The show cuts to host Nick Cannon in the crowd with Harris, and the jokemeister does not reside in the spotlight graciously. He whips out gag after gag, continuously interrupting Cannon as he attempts to steer the program into a commercial break. It’s a portrait of a man desperately clinging to his seconds of screen-time. For all he knows, this is as good as it gets.

I sincerely hope that isn’t the case for everyone else.

P.S. Congratulations to singer/pianist Cami Bradley, who put a tender new spin on Cher’s Believe; country singer Jimmy Rose, who warbled Bryan Adams’s Heaven with plenty of aw-shucks charm; gymnast Timber Brown, who contorted himself around a dangling, twirling Saturn-like sphere with the precision of Spider-Man; and comedian Taylor Williamson, who channeled his awkward energy into a string of crowd-pleasing one-liners. All of these contenders gained the nod to continue. For now.

P.P.S. The Backstreet Boys also performed, but honorary members Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel were not in attendance.

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

Season 8, Episode 16: Live From Radio City, Week 4 Performances (originally aired August 13, 2013).

Season 8, Episode 17: Live From Radio City, Week 4 Results (originally aired August 14, 2013).

Follow @elliotcampos on Twitter.

Images courtesy of NBC.

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