So, your season-long America’s Got Talent recapper Jaya Saxena has left us — left the country, in fact. I don’t think it’s because of this show — or the notion that the people competing in it have more talent than any other undiscovered entertainer in our proud nation (shudder) — but I can’t say for sure. In any case, they asked me if I wanted to step into Jaya’s shoes for the final couple of weeks, and I said what the hell. Full disclosure: I was not a faithful America’s Got Talent viewer this season. I do, however, like singing, dancing, and violin rock-outs as much as the next person. Plus, this is the show with Hasselhoff, and I am flesh and blood after all — love the Hoff. Let’s do this.

Turns out I jumped into this puppy during, as the throaty announcer put it, “America’s Got Talent… THE FINALS” — very exciting. Following a speech on the financial crisis by President Bush that clipped 15 minutes off tonight’s show (I guess we know where NBC’s priorities are), Nuttin But Stringz got the party started by jamming what they described as “one of the greatest songs we ever composed.” It kind of sounded like a string version of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” with a drum machine beat, but they were quite a spectacle, with that rain motif they borrowed from Rihanna’s “Umbrella” video and the Cirque du Soleil trapeze work in the background. There’s no denying these kids are into what they’re doing, and it was all about as Vegas as you could imagine. But it was also more pomp and circumstance than talented performance, wasn’t it? I think Nuttin But Stringz spent almost as much time hyping the crowd (“Come on, make some noooooise!”) as they did playing the violins. Take away the flash and it was like an act you’d see performed during a timeout at a basketball game that makes you think, “Wow, that’s kinda cool” as you head off to the bathroom to relieve yourself. Nevertheless, Piers went gaga and pointed out that by virtue of not being singers, the Stringz were the most unique act in the competition. The Hoff summed up his whole evaluation by simply hollering “Nuttin! But! Vegas!” Hoff rules.

Poor Donald Braswell was doomed simply based on the fact that his Finest Collection of Love Songs vocal performance had to follow violin guys’ 106 & Park block party. It didn’t help that he had an orange tan and a mediocre voice that screamed cruise-ship singer. Sorry, Donald. No way in hell.

Chubby opera dude Neal E. Boyd was pretty cool. He belted out thosebig, vibrato notes you think of when you hear the word “opera,” evokingcheers from the audience and making the judges look like they might cry(or at least it that’s how it was edited). I think opera dude isactually more talented than violin guys, just not nearly asentertaining. He also seems like a sweet guy, and when he teared upafter the judges praised him, I thought maybe this kid has a shot atthe title. But then I went back and watched the episode a second timeand I saw that the show’s opening included numerous past scenes of Boydweeping and hugging and being all sensitive, so I’m guessing veteran Talent viewers are no longer giving him points for that.

Next we had Eli Mattson, who had me worried that his rendition ofPhil Collins “Against All Odds” would be about as exciting as, well, anamateur singer doing a Phil Collins cover. Turns out there’s somethingkind of intriguing about him, though, right? He has thatskinny-white-boy-at-the-piano thing going on — like a poor man’s ChrisMartin — and his voice sounds a lot like Elton John. Piers pretty muchnailed it when he said there’s something distinctive about Mattson, eventhough, overall, I was kinda meh about the whole thing –mostly because of the aforementioned Phil Collins factor. But my wifesaid Mattson was cute and that she liked him the best (while Sharonsounded like she wanted to jump the kid), so I’m thinking cutie pianoman could pull this off.

Finally, we had Queen Emily, who I was really rooting for after herheartfelt speech about winning the show being her destiny and hersincere desire to pour every ounce of herself into this finalperformance. Sadly, she just simply doesn’t have the goods. Mostly, sheseemed like a decent singer trying too hard and playing out of herleague. Maybe her raspy, soulful voice would’ve sounded better on an oldMotown joint, rather than Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time,” butin the end I just don’t think she has the juice to take this thinghome. The judges seemed to agree with me, saying things like “whetheryou win or not.” That’s definitely not a phrase you wanna hear in thefinals.

So there it is. I personally kind of dig Boyd, but if I had to guessI’d say it’s between Nuttin But Stringz and Eli Mattson. Pretty applesand oranges, those two acts, which means it could probably just comedown to the demographic of the viewers watching — do Talentviewers tend to dig Coldplay or are they more of Ludacris type ofcrowd? At any rate, I’m pretty confident next week’s winner will be oneof those two. Which means that Queen Emily will probably win by alandslide.


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