It was a night of impersonation on “America’s Got Talent” as the semifinals that will narrow the 40 finalists to 20 kicked off Tuesday night after a three-week break. Still, a couple of genuine acts emerged from the 10 that performed Tuesday.
Host Jerry Springer got the semifinals started by declaring that the remaining 40 contestants are vying for a prize that is “the biggest, ever, anywhere in the world.” At least he’s keeping it all in perspective.
First, big news: As promised, it was revealed which of the eight eliminated contestants from the audition round would get the semifinal spot that opened when the Russian Bar Trio was forced out of the competition due to an injury. The judges selected eight performers and let America vote for who should get the second chance. Seven of them felt the sting of elimination for a second time, but Donald Braswell, the “You Raise Me Up” singer whose vocal chords were shredded in a freak car accident 11 years ago, was the one to get a second chance. He’ll perform next week, and another 10 will perform at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBC in another two-hour episode.
From the heart
Tuesday, though, it was all about Neal E. Boyd, the emotional insurance salesman with a heart of gold and an operatic voice that seems to rain down from the heavens. Boyd was the headliner, performing in the final spot, and looked like opera’s version of a rock star, singing “Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us)” from “West Side Story.”
Morgan and the rest of the judges went on to heap praise upon Boyd, calling him the Michael Phelps of this competition. “You are the man to beat and whoever beats you is going to have to give the performance of their life,” Morgan said. “Brilliant.” Judge Sharon Osbourne said he’s got such great likability.
Jessica Price, the singer/guitarist who tugged on heartstrings during the audition rounds with her story of how her dad paved her path to music and left her family high and dry. Price said in her interview piece that her dad contacted her after the first audition aired on TV and said he was proud of her. She gave a soft, acoustic guitar-driven treatment to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” that had the crowd, and at least a couple of judges, on their feet.
Osbourne got emotional for Price, saying that if she were Price’s dad nothing could stop her (or him?) from getting out to L.A. to watch her perform. The judges asked her to show a little more confidence on stage, but otherwise had nothing but good things to say and it would be surprising if she didn’t make it through to the next round.
From somewhere else
Derrick Barry, a Central California man who impersonates Britney Spears, got emotional as he talked about how he wouldn’t be in the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent” if Spears wasn’t as talented as she is. Then, he promised to turn up the heat on the controversy. Note: It’s generally a bad sign when a reality show contestant starts buying into his own penchant for controversy.
“I think the world is ready for female impersonation,” Barry said. “There may be people or critics who don’t approve of what I do.”
One of those was Morgan, who quickly buzzed Barry as he lip-synced and danced with a crew to Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” Barry, decked out in the full school girl get-up, shimmied around the stage, but Morgan wasn’t having it.
“It’s nothing personal, and I’m sure the audience will not agree with me,” Morgan said, to a pre-emptive chorus of boos. “I don’t think personally, that grown men should be wearing school girl outfits and pretending to be Britney Spears.”
Osbourne told him to shove it, and judge David Hasselhoff admitted he was questioning his sexuality after watching Barry’s moves. On curiosity alone, Barry should be back for another round.
Ronny B., on the other hand, the “Boy Shakira” of this season, is a curiosity that should see its end. The goofy singer and dancer’s moves were amusing during the audition process, but Ronny B’s performance of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” came about five years too late. It came off as a hackneyed version of William Hung’s bit on the third season of “American Idol.” What’s that they say about a copy of a copy?
Five of Tuesday night’s performers will move on to the next round. They will be announced tonight before another batch of 10 acts take to the stage, including 4-year-old singer Kaitlyn Maher, drag queen opera singer Shequida, pianist and singer Eli Mattson, and Army sergeant Daniel Jens.
Victor Balta lives in Philadelphia and is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.