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'America's Got Talent' recap: 'Opening Night'

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You know we’ve entered exciting new territory when The Hoff ditches his signature critique (“You are what this show is all about!”)  and opts instead to remind the contestants that this was “opening night,” their first truly big moment on the show. Long gone are the endless audition episodes, the hackneyed editing (cry…now!). We’ve advanced past last week’s pointless Vegas stopover with its airport rejections and contestant face-offs. And at least until next season, we’re done with watching large groups of people scream “___’s got TALENT!!” after a commercial break. High-fives all around, guys — we made it to Hollywood! Dreams do come true!

We can credit our first live broadcast with spicing things up a little bit and (finally!) giving us a more authentic look at a show that until now has played a lot of unnecessary games with its audience AND contestants. Did you feel it? The excitement of a totally new performance — the knowledge that things could go in any direction, that even the editors could only do so much to manipulate our viewing experience? Sort of liberating, if you ask me, and something that comes as a huge relief after weeks of overly homogenized episodes.

The quarterfinals kicked off with the rollerskating/dancing antics of Breaksk8, who used the powerful beat of “Smooth Criminal” to fuel a…kind of underwhelming routine. Appropriately smooth, sure, but it lacked the kind of energy they exhibited in their last performance. Said Piers, “for guys on wheels, you don’t go very far and don’t travel very fast.” Sharon, channeling dearly departed American Idol judge Paula Abdul, could only say she “loved the music.” (What?) Stop dallying, Sharon, we’ve got eleven more acts.

Despite being forced to contend with both a wind-machine and overactive Phantom of the Opera set, 14-year-old Thia Megia sang with real power and grace. I don’t know WHAT she sang — help me out, guys? — but it certainly moved the judges enough, and should see her through to the Top 20. The Platt Brothers ratcheted up their unique blend of acrobatics and slapstick humor for the quarterfinal round, but Piers worried that it was “too unfocused and confusing,” a bit of a kitchen-sink performance. They’re one of the more creative acts to make it this far, but our favorite male British judge is probably right — what counts now is knowing exactly where your strengths lie.

Or just what’s SO IN right now? After checking out our latest magazine cover (we’re so sure), The Diva League decided that the only way to truly vamp it up out West was to actually DRESS UP like vampire queens…and writhe in time to “Disturbia.” Not the hotness they had intended — the group was loudly criticized by Piers, who told them they were “not what America needs right now.” Staunch vampire supporters Sharon and The Hoff disagreed, but it’s unlikely these men will make it out of this round. The Tru-Bloods are on me, fellas.

Manuela Horn, Manuela Horn…why were you even here? Twice already the woman had defied logic to advance to the next round, but finally met some long-overdue criticism tonight. Admittedly, it wasn’t for the yodeling or the dominatrixing — calling that “just a puzzle piece of my many colors,” Manuela decided instead to wear an apron and sing an altered version of Pussycat Dolls’ “Dontcha”. (Another check in the “huh?” column, Barry!) The judges couldn’t understand why she changed her act…but of course never questioned the decision to send her to Hollywood in the first place. Let’s not allow anymore mistakes to be made, voters!

Grandma Lee did her Grandma Lee thing, which at this point feels sort of stale. The novelty of her being both a) elderly and b) naughty has long since worn off, and in my opinion her material isn’t funny enough to stand on its own. A great rapport with the judges should help her at least a little bit, but I don’t see her ultimately contending for the million dollar prize. Do you guys feel differently?

Not much to say about Mosaic. They performed an a capella version of “Superstition” that was tight and energetic, but not immediately memorable.; the kind of act you describe as “really solid.” Is there room at this stage of the game for acts that this? Acrodunk on the other hand was amazing, topping their nearly flawless audition performance with something even better. For sheer choreography, this act absolutely stunned.  My pick for favorite act of the night, and a shoo-in for Top 20.

Billy Elliot Arcadian Broad added piano-playing to his quarterfinal act, which polarized the judges (Piers increasingly divided against the other two) but earned the dancer another standing ovation from the audience. Like Grandma Lee, I worry his act has grown stale — it sort of just looks like a lot of prancing to me — but the heart this kid throws into his performances is something to admire.

Drew Thomas Magic: Very cool illusion (really), but it could stand a little more speed and theatricality. Fake breasts mildly intimidating.

Kevin Skinner: Another powerful performance, emotional and heartfelt. Is there room for him in Vegas, though? I’m torn on this one.

Lake Houston Dance: So many braces! Booted at the Vegas airport then brought back (per Simon Cowell’s request?) the dozens-strong group danced to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and had a pillow fight. Cute; age-appropriate. But won’t win.

I’m so incredibly tired finishing this recap that it hurts to think about sustaining another America’s Got Talent thought, but I’ll say this: it’s great to be able to talk about performances now — and just performances — free of the the many complaint-worthy gaffes of the last month. And to vote! (If you’re into that sort of thing). Let it all out in the comments, guys.

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