The second two-hour installment of the "America's Got Talent" auditions took on a decidedly more inspiring turn on Tuesday night than the previous week's season premiere as the show focused more on talent and less on humiliation.
Only a handful of bad auditions got the crowd booing as a traveling piano man, Hurricane Katrina survivors and a leather-clad, hip-shaking Elvis impersonator had the fans cheering in force. Some great auditions also had the judges thinking they might have found some serious contenders for the $1 million prize.
Victoria, a singing fairy, kicked off the evening of entertainment. She sang "a capello" — yes, that’s what she said — in what she called a three-and-a-half-octave voice. Dressed in yellow cellophane and flowers, the fairy was clobbered by the crowd and kicked off an opening montage of crowd displeasers that was set to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." But that was the extent of the mob rule for the time being.
We love L.A.?
Eli Mattson was the first heart-warming story of the night and he came before the first commercial break. At the Los Angeles audition, Mattson talked about traveling around the country to play his music, staying in any hotel that had a piano so he could perform for tips. Still, he'd come up short of bus fare to head to another town from time to time. He said the audition night could change everything for him. He brought the crowd to its feet with his rousing rendition of Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis." His voice was reminiscent of Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. Judge Sharon Osbourne said she could not believe that someone like him has not been signed, but "that's why we have this show." The judges kept talking about Eli after his audition, with Piers Morgan saying, "he could be a finalist."
Miss Pussykatt, a 27-year-old bartender with purple hair who said her talent grew from dancing and that she kept taking "the next step and the next step," proceeded to grind. She used a drill against metal plates on her body to strategically send sparks flying, a la "Grinder Girl" from "The Late Show with David Letterman." All three judges gave her a pass to the next round.
Lil Countrie & Page 1NE, survivors of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, hoped the audition would give them a chance to start over and show something positive about their hometown. Their story, of course, brought immediate compassion from the crowd, but they proved to be more than a sympathy case. Their hip-hop and gymnastics tumbling routine had the crowd going nuts. Judge David Hasselhoff called them the best tumbling act he’s seen on the show. Piers said they'd have to be judged not on their story, but on their talent. Then he called them one of the favorites this year and asked them to return for the Vegas callbacks.
If they can make it there …
As the auditions moved to New York, a boy band made up of cousins 15 to 23 in age, Next II None, impressed the judges. They sang ’N Sync's "Bye, Bye, Bye" and choreographed a dance routine that wowed the judges enough to earn the Michigan quartet a ticket to the next round.
The Russian Bar Trio, a family that traveled from Canada to the auditions, was trying one of the show's most dangerous routines. It involved flipping a woman on a four-inch-wide flexible bar that her two partners held on each end. The judges were stunned, with The Hoff saying they were "perfect for this show," before putting them through to Vegas.
The Taubl Family, a nine-piece singing and stringing band, pleased most of the crowd with a bit of "The Sound of Music." Piers buzzed them quickly, but later admitted that he might have buzzed them a bit early. He said there "was definitely a chemistry" and that he eventually started to enjoy it. They moved on.
The D.C. Cowboys, a group of 10 dancers in matching red vests, blue jeans and cowboy hats took the stage next. One of them, describing their act, said, “Think 'Brokeback' meets Broadway.” That pretty much summed it up. They’re on to Vegas.
Next stop, Chicago
The auditions headed to Chicago, where Kevin "Big K" Taylor wanted people to take him seriously as a martial artist and an entertainer by breaking 1,000 pounds of cement in the form of 400 bricks that were set on fire. At one point his hand caught on fire and Sharon couldn't watch. Piers and David's jaws dropped as the man busted through stacks of cement blocks. Piers commended him for taking his martial arts skill and making it entertaining, which most martial arts acts fail to do. He’s headed to Vegas.
Chellena, a cervical cancer survivor, showed off a powerful voice with the "American Idol" audition favorite, "A Change Is Gonna Come." The crowd stood in approval, but Piers said that she isn't the best singer they've seen this year. He relented, saying he liked her spirit, so he gave her a pass and she got votes from The Hoff and Sharon to get her through to Las Vegas.
A string of really bad magicians, including one who set his pants on fire (apparently intentionally) and one who lost his bird, led up to an inspiring routine by The Pendragons. The couple featured an illusionist who suffered a near-fatal accident two years earlier when he took an arrow to his chest. He said the risk made it worthwhile. They performed a stunning routine in which he was locked in a box and traded places with his assistant, who reappeared from within the box in a new outfit. They made it through.
After a run of terrible tribute acts that had several legends collectively rolling over in their graves, a young Elvis impersonator saved the night. Joseph Hall, 23, came out and blew the crowd and the judges away with his "Hound Dog." It was "Viva Las Vegas" time for Joseph, so we’ll see him in the next round.
Victor Balta lives in Philadelphia and is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.