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Tough night on ‘America’s Got Talent’

At the end of the day, “America’s Got Talent” is summer filler — something to prevent your TiVo from atrophying while you await the return of fall TV.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

We may watch this show twice a week, and with ardent enthusiasm, but we’ve got to face facts: It’s sort of the dumb cousin of other, better reality competitions. Our judges don’t have the instant quotability of a Simon, Paula or Randy. Show name to the contrary, our contestants do not have the talent of a “So You Think You Can Dance” or “Top Chef.” And the theme music! (Don’t get me started.)

At the end of the day, “America’s Got Talent” is summer filler — something to prevent your TiVo from atrophying while you await the return of fall TV. But it’s sometimes fun, occasionally heartwarming. And it tries — Lord, how it tries.

You’ve got to give the “ATG” editors credit for attempting to wring some dramatic tension from the “lack of talent” at the Hollywood auditions. From the first performer, an androgynous singer called “Nasty Nate,” through the fifth, a 49-year-old nurse (who had everyone thinking “Boyle?” until they thought “Not Boyle”), last night’s early round had the judges cursing Tinseltown and making plenty of “worst day ever” remarks. Was it really? Of course not.

The televised order of performances hardly reflects the actual auditions. But it gave the show 1) a great excuse to have The Hoff don his Baywatch jacket and attempt to “save” the auditions* and 2) a perfect set up for some talent redemption later on.

First to rouse the judges from their deep-seated depression was 17-year-old Bree, a singer-songwriter who performed a very jazzy version of Jonas Bros.’ “Burnin’ Up.” Her composed singing voice and musical ability lent the song a real personality, enough to generate the first “You’re going to Vegas!” of the night. (Which came without hyperbole! The judges managed to avoid their usual over-the-top proclamations in their critiques, acknowledging Bree’s abilities without using the words “hope of a nation” or “Christ-like.” High-five, guys.)

Of course an act as sweet and sincere as the above could only be followed by something equally creepy and polished, and tonight was no exception. Enter “TJ and the Little Mamas,” a group of dancing kids ages 6-9 who proved the pimp-ho dynamic to be alive and well in the single-digit bracket. They flipped, shimmied; all three judges were impressed. The act was undeniably well put-together and fun for the kids to perform, but between the tiny outfits and hoochie dancing, all I could think about was its distinctly non-childlike quality ... and the gross conglomeration of parents backstage. Whoops, those are your legal guardians!

Then there were fire-eaters (“Ms. Germany,” who The Hoff — naturally — loved), robot-dancing brothers and a toe dancer (he didn’t advance). It was an encouraging array of talent (however talented) that struck this recapper as the kind of variety you want to see on a regular basis. Dancing and singing we can get on Fox; while certainly not dismissing those disciplines, “America’s Got Talent” should be offering everything else.

“Everything else” last night meant the scantily clad Mario and Jennifer, who proclaimed their act “dangerous and sexy” (The Hoff — again — in love) before juggling chainsaws and unleashing a few primal screams at the audience. There were so many chainsaws! Perhaps not the most original act ever, but Piers was right: They “got everybody’s attention” and looked “born to be Vegas performers.” It strikes me that this is what we should be seeing more of, slightly off-kilter acts that engage the audience and elicit a “did you see that?” reaction. Romance. Intrigue. SPECTACLE.

I touted tonight’s “Susan Boyle” moment in last week’s post (you came today because of that, right?), but I am sad to report that America has yet to find its own eyebrow-intensive star. Singer Lawrence Beaman was very good — his booming, theater-quality voice sent tremors down the spine of each judge — and gave the perfunctory “this is my chance, my moment” speech before heading out on stage, but lacked a real “wow” factor. Just a very nice performance.

Tonight’s episode marks the end of the audition rounds and perhaps our love affair with the wackos and weirdos dying to share their off-key singing or kite-flying abilities with the world. A champagne toast ... then off to a less ridiculous tomorrow. Are we ready?

*It should be noted that David Hasselhoff truly believes he was both a lifeguard and crime-fighting knight, much the same way Tom Hanks remembers fighting in WWII.