After six weeks of seeing the best, the worst and the ugliest that cities across the country had to offer over the past six weeks, "America's Got Talent" went virtual on Tuesday night, testing the talents of people who uploaded their auditions on MySpace.com.
Give NBC some credit for jumping back to the Internet for talent after the debacle that was "quarterlife." Early on, the Internet's chances of digging up fresh talent didn't look much more promising. But the night eventually took a turn with some heartwarming stories about a long lost mother and daughter reconnecting and a soldier getting a chance to perform after spending 15 months in Iraq.
But first, Michael Trixx, a magician from Cape Cod, Mass., hit the stage. He offered up what he called a "rock 'n' roll magic show" to Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and judge Sharon Osbourne said he looked "like a little rock 'n' roll hobbit." We're glad she said it so we didn't have to. The performance was full of quick gags you'd find in the display window at your local magic shop and the judges decided this Trixx wasn't for kids or for this competition.
Eloy Rendon, a 33-year-old motivational speaker, might be looking to buy some of his own books and tapes after getting booed and X'd off stage after just a few seconds of spouting off some spoken word about looking to greatness. Ironic? Judge David Hasselhoff took the opportunity to freestyle rap, which wasn't good for anyone.
Del Hampton, a 42-year-old factory worker, proclaimed he was the nine-time national "cluck-off" champion. Cluck-off? Is that even allowed on network television? The judges didn't think so, and Piers Morgan asked Hampton to, indeed, "cluck off."
The second Ozzy Osbourne impersonator of the season saved the night. The first one, a few weeks back in the audition process, was a joke. This one was so close to the real thing that Sharon was taken aback.
Randy Hanson, a 47-year-old carpenter, did such a convincing rendition of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" that Sharon asked him to take his trousers down so she could make sure he wasn't really her husband. "That's the only way I can tell," she said. With that kind of reaction, there was no way he wasn't going to Vegas. And he was, becoming the first performer of the evening — nearly 20 minutes into the episode — to get a pass to the next round.
You know when the Mariah Carey music starts to play in the background, it's time for emotions. Holly Stone, a 44-year-old nurse, said she'd always wanted to be a singer, but life threw her a curve ball when she got pregnant at 18 and had to give the baby up for adoption.
After searching for years for her daughter, Stone took her quest online and found her on MySpace. Eventually, she built up the courage to send her a message saying, "I think I'm your mother." (Spam filter, don't fail us now!) The two connected and now maintain a relationship and her daughter was with her at the audition.
She sang an "American Idol" favorite, Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing" and the crowd went nuts. The Hoff declared an "only in America" kind of story that Stone could find her daughter on MySpace and make her way onto TV to perform. She moved on to Vegas.
Not kicking the bucket yet
The Cadence, an all-percussion rock sextet, slammed on drums, buckets and pretty much anything else that would make noise when hit. They weren't even painted blue and the audience loved them. Piers said he doesn't usually like that type of act, but enjoyed this one while suggesting that the group add some backing music to fill out the performance. The Hoff gave a resounding yes and Sharon turned around with a quick no, concerned that they couldn't fill out the type of 90-minute Vegas-style show that goes to the winner of "America's Got Talent." It came down to Piers, who, after a dramatic pause, gave a yes and kept the group's hopes alive.
A montage of good acts, kicked off by an illusionist named Shimshi who took the cutting-his-assistant-in-half trick to another level by cutting her in thirds and lifting the middle piece. It was a nice twist on a classic and earned him a trip to Vegas. Some fancy jugglers also got a green light, followed by an impressionist who made it through, along with an a cappella group named Kazual. The Tappin' Dads, an 18-member group of tuxedo-clad tap dancers, made The Hoff proud to be an American, because this is where the dreams of a dozen-and-a-half middle-aged tap dancers from Temecula, Calif., can come true.
The mother-daughter act, ages 38 and 79, calling themselves the Sweetones (that's "sweet tones," for those scoring at home) took the stage and offered up a whistling version of "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music." Viewers knew this wasn't going to end well because of teasers earlier that showed Piers telling the perfectly nice ladies that they'd wasted everyone's time. Piers was right as it turned into a screeching mess that went on way too long as the crowd booed incessantly. Piers did say it was "irritating, pointless, childish and a waste of our time." Didn't see that coming.
Daniel Jens, a 34-year-old Army sergeant who'd spent 15 months in Iraq before returning in January, said his music helped get him and his fellow soldiers through the experience by taking their minds off the war and keep morale up. He sang Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" with a certain Bryan Adams kind of flair. Sharon said she got goose bumps as soon as he started, and Piers said Jens had charisma and appeal but that he's got some work to do on the singing. The crowd didn't like that. The Hoff thought Jens did a great job and represented himself and the Armed Forces well. The crowd liked that.
Jens' wife came on stage and said that the 15 months her husband was gone were the toughest one could ever experience.
"I love this show," The Hoff said, before declaring, "Yes!" Sharon gave a yes, as well, and Piers told Jens that he was getting sent to another desert — Las Vegas.
With the audition round finally over, the Vegas callbacks start next week.
Victor Balta lives in Philadelphia and is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.