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America opts for ‘Talent’ over camp

It was all about separating real talent from sheer novelty Wednesday night on “America’s Got Talent.” A special, two-hour episode featured the first five cuts of the semifinals, while another 10 acts took the stage, competing for America’s vote and a chance to stay in the running for $1 million.The voters proved they took the competition more seriously than some of the judges have througho
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

It was all about separating real talent from sheer novelty Wednesday night on “America’s Got Talent.” A special, two-hour episode featured the first five cuts of the semifinals, while another 10 acts took the stage, competing for America’s vote and a chance to stay in the running for $1 million.

The voters proved they took the competition more seriously than some of the judges have throughout the audition process, putting four of the best acts from Tuesday’s performance show through to the next round: opera singer Neal E. Boyd, singer/guitarist Jessica Price, percussion group Cadence, and the Extreme Dance FX Dance group.

The judges were given the task of deciding which act would get the fifth spot, and they chose The James Gang, the 1920s-inspired hip hop and dance crew, over 10-year-old martial artist Elite.

The results ensured that at least a few of the purely campy acts, including Derrick Barry’s cross-dressing impersonation of Britney Spears, dancer and William Hung wannabe Ronny B., and the poorly choreographed “D.C. Cowboys,” would have no place in this year’s competition.

Five of Wednesday’s performers will be cut at the start of the next episode, which airs at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBC. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)

Long live the Queen

For the second consecutive night, the final act of the evening was the one that evoked the biggest reaction from the judges, perhaps forcing the casual observer to wonder whether they’re stacking the deck. This time, it was Queen Emily, the single mother from Stockton, Calif., who had judge Piers Morgan declaring that they’d “found a superstar.”

“You have just thrown this competition into complete disarray,” judge David Hasselhoff told Emily, “because you are now absolutely the front-runner.”

Emily’s presentation was probably the best of the night, but there wasn’t a ton of competition on this particular evening. Boyd seemed to touch the crowd more with his performance.

Another fan favorite on Wednesday was Paul Salos, whose Frank Sinatra impression seemed to get the judges and fans on their collective feet with his rendition of “My Way.” Salos promised to give his all as “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and he delivered, with The Hoff saying, “The winner of this show goes to Vegas, but, baby, you are Vegas.”

Big goofs

The judges didn’t attempt to hide their contempt for the odd and apparently lazy act put on by George the Giant, a 7-foot-3, self-proclaimed freakshow. George impressed at least two of the judges during the audition rounds by drinking milk through a straw that he’d put up his nose and pulled out of his throat. This time, they had nothing but scathing criticism after he channeled Harry Houdini in a stunt that he’d built up as life-threatening. Hanging upside down, suspended by his feet and wrapped in chains, George attempted a Houdini-like escape while kids beat him with sticks shouting, “Piñata!” George had escalated the drama, saying he’d lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital while attempting the feat during rehearsals.

When it was over, Morgan called it “childish” and “embarrassing” and said, “I think you would’ve done better staying in the hospital.” It looked like a bad weekend carnival act, and nothing like what viewers ought to expect from one of 35 performers in the running for a $1 million prize.

The ZOOperstars’ time might be up. The quintet of dancing inflatable sports mascots did their thing, which seems more appropriate for a between-innings laugh than a 90-minute Las Vegas show. The act included a 7-foot duck getting propelled by an over-sized sling-shot and falling off the front edge of the stage, providing one of the more comical moments of the whole night.

Off notes

Some promising singers had a rough time Wednesday night, including R&B group Kazual , which was a wreck. The quartet did well with ballads during the auditions and tried to go upbeat by performing The Jackson 5’s “Can You Feel It?” Most of the singers, except for one, sounded nervous and out of breath during the majority of the song. Morgan suggested that the one good singer take the lead and the rest harmonize behind him.

Jonathan Arons, the trombonist who likes to dance, fell flat with his instrument but got by on pure energy while playing along with and dancing to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” He might not last much longer in the competition, but he was fun to have around.

Army sergeant Daniel Jens performed for the first time without his military dress uniform on and suddenly looked a lot like a regular guy who likes to sing and play guitar. Jens sang The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” not terribly well, prompting Morgan to remark, “I’ve not heard tonight, and I include you in this, a singing voice yet that I think, really, should be in Vegas.”

Victor Balta lives in Philadelphia and is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.