"America's Got Talent" provided an inspirational message to those with skills that sometimes aren't appreciated right away. Viewers learned on Tuesday that just because an audience may start by begging the judges to get someone off the stage doesn't mean they can't ultimately be won over.
That was evident in the audition of Donald Braswell, playing the role of "inspirational act that closes the show and makes viewers want to return next week." The Texas singer had his vocal cords severed in an accident 11 years ago, and chose to make his return to the stage before the cranky trio of David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan, not to mention a Dallas crowd that was eager to heckle.
When Braswell began singing Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up," the crowd reacted like he'd just bodyslammed Tony Romo. If the peanut gallery had had its way, his Hallmark Movie of the Week story would have been over before the chorus.
Braswell, however, didn't fall apart when the crowd got angry. He kept going, singing powerfully enough that the crowd first subdued and then started cheering. By the end of the performance, the audience was yelling at the judges to send him to the next round. Fickle, thy name is Dallas.
That turnaround pumped up Hasselhoff — not that that takes much effort. "First, this entire crowd was yelling to get you off — you got them on their feet and yelling VE-GAS because you came back after 11 years and inspired everybody in this room" he shouted.
The other judges agreed, and Braswell got his plane ticket onward. Groban may have simultaneously called his agent and asked to cut his concert tour dates in the Dallas area.
Another act that survived a tepid start to move on in Dallas was the 18-year-old Xclusive. He began his routine by lying down on the center of the stage long enough that the skeptical crowd started to heckle, but he redeemed himself with a crisp robotic dance routine that left the audience roaring.
"When you were lying there on your back, I didn't expect very much, to be honest with you. The question is: What would you do if you came back?" Morgan asked.
"I have a whole load of other routines," Xclusive replied. Each of the judges agreed to give him the chance to prove that in Las Vegas.
That's the city that doomed Bruce Block last season. After advancing past the initial auditions, Block faltered in Sin City in part because his assistant bailed at the last minute. He came back to Atlanta for another chance, another assistant, and a brand-new bed of nails to lie on.
It was too much camp for Morgan, who gave it the quick buzzer of doom, but Hasselhoff was intrigued enough to come on stage and stand on top of him as the show's lawyers fretted that the former Baywatch star would cause death by impalement.
"Would I pay good money to watch you perform for 90 minutes … I don't know" Morgan said. But Hasselhoff and Osbourne disagreed, so Block returns to Las Vegas hoping for better luck and some more stable help.
Block was just one of many unconventional acts to get the thumbs-up from the judges this week.
"What can I say? I love you?" Osbourne said. After Saunders left the stage, Osbourne added an "I love this show."
Other acts advancing included a whole host of dance acts: a samba dance troupe (Tropidanza), a roving band of dancing mascots (Zooperstars) and the Dallas Desparados. The latter was an all-female dance group that had Hasselhoff at hello.
"Let's just get this over with – I vote yes" he said as soon as they got onstage.
"I'm moving to Dallas," he added after they finished. Morgan was thrilled as well, and even Osbourne agreed with the verdict.
In addition, exotic dancer Bryan Cheatham sang "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," and as a result got a trip to the home of exotic dance.
Of course, there was the usual crew of untalented auditioners who served as fodder to give the audience something to boo and the viewers someone to laugh at.
Banker Michelle Wallace called her singing a gift to entertain the whole world, almost always a prelude to disaster. After taking forever to start singing, she got just two words into "All By Myself" before getting booed. The judges cruelly let her repeat the lyrics several times before X-ing her out, and even then she kept singing anyway. At least the crowd applauded when she finally left the stage.
Barry Collier's Barnyard noises were equally ridiculed, as were Music Makes the World Go Round's duet with accordions.
There were numerous others that got slammed by both crowd and judges. But for all of those with family and friends who don't seem to recognize their talents, the fate of those like Braswell and Xclusive give hope that salvation — accompanied by a ticket to Las Vegas — can be achieved by just a few more seconds to convince a skeptical crowd.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.