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'America's Got Talent' recap: The final countdown

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We started this competition in the salad days of summer, sipping mojitos as we jauntily made our way through waves of talent that seemed to ebb and flow like the tide. A lazy, pressure-free ride, the stakes were as low as Kmart’s low, low prices.

THAT WAS THEN. We’re in the finals now, baby, and the stakes are anything but low for the 10 remaining contestants. On the line? One million dollars (which actually isn’t that much money these days, all things consi…) and a headlining show in Vegas. Will it be Barbara Padilla? Recycled Percussion? Hairo Torres? Our contestants performed for the final time last night, some rising to the occasion…and some treading water. We’ll find out tonight exactly how it all shakes out, but first — as is my job — we need to recap how we got there. Join me, won’t you?

Decked out in the sharpest outfits of the night, Voices of Glory took the stage first to sing Whitney Houston’s  “Greatest Love of All.” It’s not the best song ever (…somewhat cannily timed to Whitney Houston’s Oprah special) and Nadia’s start was a little shaky, but the trio’s harmonies were strong as always. A rousing finish and an enduring reminder of their back story could see them contending for the win.

I’m going to be real for a second and say that in my perfect vision of Wednesday’s finale, Hairo Torres wins it all. Of anyone left in the competition, he’s easily the most original and exciting performer– his moves continue to impress as he tweaks and changes aspects of the routine — and one you could honestly feel growing as the show wore on. It wouldn’t be a “Most Improved” trophy, either — he’s simply very good, and has been from the beginning. Hairo took a chance last night by going solo (his last two routines involved background dancers), but the all-eyes-on-me approach could pay off.

The judges have been making the comparison for months now, and last night Lawrence Beamen finally gave in and sang Barry White. The song, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” was a natural fit for Lawrence, who seemed more at ease on stage (and off, crooning to the front row) than he did the previous week. He’s been up and down for me this whole competition, but this very solid performance proved he’s a real contender for the win.

Barbara Padilla was fantastic, belting out Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” with the same skill and confidence we saw in her first audition and, well, ever since. On a pure talent level…she’s the best this show has to offer. But do I see her act in Vegas? It’s the elephant in the room for so many contestants, and a question that even now the judges have barely bothered to answer. What defines a Vegas routine? What are we looking for? It’s very likely that Barbara will win the competition, and while far from undeserved, I still wonder if that’s the right decision. Your thoughts?

As they’ve proven time and again throughout this season, Fab Five have a pretty remarkable ability to move as one body, all the while making it look absolutely effortless (and fun). It’s no small feat — and a major testament to their talent — but it may not be enough to see them through to the end. Ditto the Texas Tenors, whose voices and harmony are strong…but not quite up to victory standards.

Drew Stevyns may be the most earnest performer in the Top 10. When he sings, you can tell he does so with everything he’s got physically and emotionally. (The man’s face is bright red!) When he connects with the audience, as he did last night…you have to wonder if he can’t take down someone like Kevin Skinner. Absolutely the dark horse of this competition.

“If [Grandma Lee] wants to win this competition,” said Sharon, “she needs to move on from the Piers jokes.” Oops! Grandma Lee, failing once again to take her own advice and “cut the crap,” launched one last time into her stale routine of sex jokes and Piers Morgan come-ons. A funny lady in the right context, but not for an hour+ Vegas show.

Whoever picked Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for Kevin Skinner made a huge mistake. The man’s strength has been in slow, soulful songs; not power ballads, which with the wrong pipes — and Kevin’s were definitely wrong — almost always feel karaoke-ish. Voters will likely look to his previous performances (most especially his audition) as proof of his talent, but I don’t see him winning at this point.

Finally, Recycled Percussion rocked out to “Wipeout.” Big, loud, and with “Vegas” screaming out from every drum, these guys stand a very good chance to win AGT. It wouldn’t be undeserved.

So there you have it, guys — the last performances from season 4. Tomorrow night we’ll see just how America felt about them, but now the mic turns to you and your thoughts. Any acts you couldn’t bear to see lose? Any acts that surprised you? Let us know how you feel in the comments below.

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