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'America's Got Talent' recap: 'Back Hoff' the talent!

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Olympics, schmolympics. The real challenge of the human spirit returned to NBC yesterday in the form of America’s Got Talent. Sure, winning 8 gold medals for swimming is impressive, but would Michael Phelps be able to withstand a critique from Piers Morgan without cracking? I doubt it.

Seriously, though, NBC’s inexplicably top-rated reality competition is down to 40 contestants, and we saw 10 last night (with 10 more scheduled for tonight’s telecast). And lest you think there’s nothing on the line, apparently last seasons winner, Terry Fator, just signed a $10,000,000 deal in Vegas. That’s right. Eight zeroes.

Extreme Dance FX not only had the daunting task of being the first act up for judging, but also the challenge of bringing clog-dancing into the future. Mission accomplished, if by “future” you mean “1987.” Whether or not this is an act worthy of advancing to the next round depends on how you feel about the following five-word combination: Sequins, clog dancing, “Push It.”

Next up came the James Gang, the anachronistic street performers from New York (embedded below). Sadly their Idlewild-esque act didn’t translate to television. I loved the music, I loved their dancing, but somehow it all felt too small on the small screen. The fact that their dove-producing magic trick crashed and burned when a dove fell out of one of their jackets didn’t help either. It did, however, produce the Hoff’s best exclamation of the season, when he informed them that their act was “as American as the Olympics.” Too bad the Olympics are Greek.

The second-funniest moment of the night arrived when Hasselhoff admitted that Derek, the BritneySpears impersonator, was making him question his sexuality. That not unpredictable event would’ve been enough on its own, but when Morgan backhandedly (or actually, quitefronthandedly) insulted Hasselhoff’s dancing skills, the former Knight Rider star got up toreveal his jeans back pockets, emblazoned with “Back Hoff” in olde tymefont.

Such inspired lunacy outshone even Elite, that act in which a10-year-old girl  beats up her father (but this time dressed as apirate); Ronny B, who did his best Hector Lavoe impersonation, but endedup looking more like William Hung; and The Cadence, who played “BeatIt,” with six drums and a canned guitar line. I guess “Beat It” couldbe funny, considering they’re a percussion band, but maybe not. And as for Jessica Price, even if affected, torturedsinging is your thing, it’s not a good sign when the audiencedoesn’t recognize a song as iconic as “TimeAfter Time” until the chorus.

All in all, we didn’t see anything truly impressive till the 45-minute mark last night, when Shimshi hit the stage. It’s been a while since I’ve been impressed by a magic act, but anyone who combines gymnastics stunts withcard tricks can’t be too bad, right? Um, not according to Morgan and Hasselhoff, who both hated Shimshi’s entertaining routine (embedded below). Ah well, there go my dreams of being atelevision personality/talent judge.

We finished off the night withDC Cowboys’ souped-up line-dancing to “Footloose,” and Neal E. Boyd’suplifting version of “Somewhere.” In classic AGT style, thebiggest sob story was saved for last — Boyd’s grandmother recently died — but there’s no denying the guy has actual talent. Better still, the Olympics-induced hiatus seems to have improved the telecast: No more gratuitous reaction shots, no cutaways to Jerry inthe wings, and even a reduced number of commercial breaks and attempts atheartwrenching backstories. The producers did manage to save one shocker till the end of the show, though,when they revealed that Donald Braswell, the man who couldn’t sing for11 years (and therefore won the gold medal in Sob Storying), had replaced theRussian Bar Trio in the final 40.

So what do you think? Could thequality of the show finally be on the rise? Could the Hoff take downDerek in a hip-gyrating showdown? And am I the only one who just wantsto vote for Sharon? Start voting!

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