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'America's Got Talent' recap: Tough decisions

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It’s not something I would have considered two months ago, when this show was first unleashed on the American public, but all that time we’ve spent with certain contestant suddenly makes the decision of who goes on, well, difficult. Each of the remaining 20 acts has performed three times now, and we’ve gotten to see their journey (or at least parts) and get to know them as people — people devoted to their dreams, people for whom this show is the biggest deal possible. And people I sort of like.

Really! I had the opportunity to speak to all 20 semifinalists over the past four weeks, learning about their struggles and triumphs, their goals for the future, and the sort of unrelenting optimism that has guided them this far. The producers got it wrong when they decided David Hasselhoff was the most important part of their show — he’s a buffoon (you knew this already) and a sad counterpoint to the talented people on stage performing for his judgment. It’s ridiculous to have to say this, but they’re the ones we should be watching.

First to perform was Acrodunk, who managed to improve on their already spectacular quarterfinal appearance with a somehow more energetic routine. It had fire! Hoops of it! More than any other group on the show, I think, these guys represent a real professionalism that’s hard to match. They should be a lock for the finals.

But maybe the Texas Tenors are, too? The opera-country mixologists opted for a ballad tonight, lending the song an appropriate amount of playfulness while staying tight and harmonious throughout. Maybe not “brilliant” as all three judges agreed, but definitely charming. Sharon’s crush on blondie will be good to them in the votes, I’m sure.

Paradizo Dance lightened things up a bit after their “Halo” performance in the quarterfinals, opting instead for a fun routine set to the Smash Mouth version of “I’m a Believer.” It felt…off at times, as the judges noted, but still had that effortless acrobatic quality that’s made them such a great act to watch. They look like they could pull off anything, really. It’s not clear to me if they’ll make the finals, but I think that given another chance they could really knock it out of the park.

Next up was Drew Thomas Magic, who drew from the “disappearing girls” well once more and bored the judges with what is, at this point, sort of a repetitive routine. Illusions are tough — the whole “variations on a theme” approach that might work in another medium doesn’t go over as well here. People demand NEW, and get bored when you can’t deliver. All that changed here was the “daddy” story…which was just kind of uncomfortable with the busty assistants.

Most surprising for me were Tony Hoard & Rory, who I was expecting to trip up in a big way after their quarterfinal performance. They didn’t, and actually managed to improve on their audition with a lively act that took advantage of both the stage and backup dancers in an unexpected way. The two of them have more polish than perhaps given credit for in the last round. Of course, it’s hard not to root for a guy who was FIRED FROM HIS JOB for continuing to appear on the show. That’s a major sacrifice in pursuit of a dream, and one to which you can only tip your hat.

The Voices of Glory have grown on me since their initial appearance, which was so enveloped in “THIS IS TOUCHING” advertising and hype that it was difficult to really assess the performance. Having been on three times now, I can say that they’re a confident, very together singing group that has the chops to keep going. Piers still hasn’t stopped harping on the sister’s “diva” quality, but I think they’re just fine the way they are.

Like Acrodunk, Fab Five knows exactly what they need to do in their performance and, well, do it. Great energy; great choreography. I do worry that maybe they’re not “flashy” enough to make it out of this round, but for polish and professionalism they deserve to go very far. Plus, one of the sisters made a Drumline joke. …Okay, I want them to win.

I think Grandma Lee has proven herself a valuable addition to the show (they need more comedians next season, which is — terrifyingly — already casting), but like Drew Thomas her act has gotten a little stale. We’ve heard the Piers jokes already, heard the lazy husband jokes — unless I’m really laughing this late in the season, and not merely smiling, it’s time for her to go.

Arcadian Broad lent AGT its first Truman Show moment when he defended his just-completed routine to Piers. “I didn’t want to do High School Musical, but the producers…” he stammered before the judges quickly tried to deflate the situation. Sharon and David offered up compliments to Arcadian, trying to calm him down. Nick, who had clearly just been told by producers to SILENCE THE CHATTER assured us that “the acts do have a final say on what they do in the performance.” Yikes. What happens now?!? Albeit repetitive, the performance itself wasn’t that bad. Arcadian danced with a partner this time, which introduced a surprisingly not-awkward new element to his routine. Still, as Piers (rightly) said, he can’t quite measure up to the remaining acts in competition.

We ended the night with Kevin Skinner, who delivered another heartfelt performance but one that, to me, felt a little flat in the singing department. The ability to move an audience is undoubtedly an important one, but it’s difficult sometimes to get behind his voice. When David says he’s come “so far”…I’m not really sure what he’s talking about. Other performers have made changes to their routine, or evolved in some way, but I don’t see that with Kevin. He was good to start, and remains good, but that extra oomph hasn’t quite kicked in. I hope it does in the finals, which he will most assuredly make.

Tonight we discover just how America voted and determine the first half of the finals roster. With only four spots available, these results will likely be something of a heart-breaker — both for the contestants themselves and the people who have come to appreciate them over the last two months. Le sigh. How do you feel, guys? Grown fond of any acts in particular, or do you maintain a much healthier detachment from all things AGT? Who do you think will advance?