David Hasselhoff is rarely on target with any remarks he makes from the judges’ table (or, well, anywhere), but his proclamation that last night would be “Hoff the charts”…rang surprisingly true! For over two hours we were treated to everything from fire juggling to break-dancing to “Poker Face” remixing, the large majority of it entertaining and, well, vote-worthy. How about it, guys? By my count, we saw at least eight contending acts — a dramatic improvement on the last two weeks’ ho-hum rotation and a guarantee that tonight’s results show will be anything but “duh.” To recap:

FootworKINGz got things going at a frantic pace with their opening act, a dance number that had Piers calling them the “fastest group [he’d] ever seen” and earning much praise from the other two judges. Even an ankle injury to one of its members the night before couldn’t stop the guys from imbuing their performance with incredible energy — and a surprising creativity, too, that made it that much more exciting to watch. (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

While I was convinced in the opening montage that Simon Cowell had intervened and brought Marcus Terell’s backup singers — so coldly ditched in Las Vegas — back on the show, those Serenades we saw last night were most definitely new. And a welcome change, as they added some much-needed firepower to their lead singer’s hungry vocals. Marcus Terell and the Serenades didn’t offer the night’s biggest performance with their cover of Duffy’s “Mercy,” but it was nevertheless a consistently fun and engaging one. Many of the more talented singers in competition still lack stage presence; not a problem for Marcus, who commanded the crowd with ease. (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

Kid acts always make me pause. Will their whole act revolve around variations on “cute”? Will the judges afford them a leniency not granted to the other contestants? And so on. (I’m definitely of the mind that there should be a separate show for children.) Pixie Mystère, however, immediately put any concerns to rest. These girls can dance! And flip! Like seasoned veterans, the group of acrobats from Cape May, NJ pulled off their challenging routine with a refreshing matter-of-factness. It was well-choreographed; it was visually exciting. It was the “whole package,” as Piers would say. (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

Jay Mattioli didn’t quite hit that “something you’ve never seen before!” level like he boasted in his introduction, but a searing confidence and sense of theatricality — along with some decent, if tired tricks illusions — proved at least that the twenty-something magician deserved his quarterfinal shot. While it’s unlikely he’ll advance to the next round (Piers called his act “end of the pier” magic, which is British for “run-of-the-mill”), I’m happy to have seen him one more time. (Verdict: Gone.)

High school musician Bri held on to the formula that worked so well for her in the audition round and returned to the stage last night with another cover — this time Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” I’d argue that she wasn’t as in control of this one as she was with “Burnin’ Up” the last time we saw her, but Bri’s “unique attitude” and “Katy Perry vibe” still shone through. Get it, girl! (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

U4RIA Dance Crew was another group invited back after being dismissed in Vegas, and showed the judges — especially Piers — that their first assessment was most assuredly wrong. Against a “freaky dance mental hospital” backdrop (so popular these days!) U4RIA danced in appropriately freaky ways. Strong choreography was bolstered by an adherence to theme that’s so often been lost on the dance acts we’ve seen so far. (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

Dave Johnson‘s act bothered me, but less for the Golden Girls novelty song (it wasn’t that terrible) than the fact that he was strung along this far due solely to David Hasselhoff’s ego. The man was out of his league even in the first round, and to bring him out in front of further millions — and live — seemed a cruel and unnecessary decision. Not one of your more “Hoff-tastic” moments, David. (Verdict: Gone.)

Could this guy move or what? Even when his choreography wasn’t so strong, Hairo Torres break-danced in some pretty unbelievable ways. The judges kept harping about how “weird” he was (1. Do we remember Manuela Horne? 2. What?), but in this case, the moves really did speak for themselves. Arm this guy with a more polished routine and he could easily contend for the top prize. (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

G-Force gave us our second kid act of the night, a trio of sister rockers aiming to be the “female Jonas Bros.” who played a cover of Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold.” While they were nowhere near as tight as Pixie Mystère — singing in particular was a little flat — the group was nevertheless charming and fun to watch. Very good for their age. (Verdict: Gone.)

NBC owes a second quarterfinal chance to Jeffrey Ou, whose take on “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” fell on deaf ears — the judges’ included — when his piano mic was accidentally cut halfway through his performance. Just a crappy turn of events. Trying to resolve the situation, Nick Cannon asked the audience to judge him on his classical intro. Sure…except we didn’t get to hear the meat of the song! (Which I’m guessing would have been great!) Huge duff, NBC. (Verdict: Possibly Top 20-worthy.)

Mario & Jenny lit plenty of stuff on fire –guitars, metal frames — then juggled it, as they delivered what Piers called “as near to a pure Vegas act as we’ve seen tonight.” Which is very good, I guess, though once again the question of what the judges (and America) are actually looking for makes it difficult to assess the performance. The combination of mortal danger and tight leather outfits earns a thumbs-up from me, but do AGT voters feel the same way? Guess we’ll find out tonight. (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

Last but not least, booming bass singer Lawrence Beamen came down from Walnut Creek, CA to sing “You Are So Beautiful” to a swooning judges’ table. Piers (is he the only one on this show who says anything worth writing down?) calls him the “closest thing to a nailed-down star” they’ve yet seen on the show, while Sharon mumbles something about “jolly good…handsome” and the Hoff tries once again to turn his name into a bizarre compliment. A strong, subtle performance with a near-guarantee to advance. Get it, girl! (Verdict: Top 20-worthy.)

Like I said, tonight’s results show is going to be something of a heartbreaker for more than a few deserving acts. Competing against some of the weaker contestants of last week and the week before, all of the “Top 20-worthy” performances of last night would have easily held their own. But tonight…it’s anyone’s guess. FINALLY, a reason to tune in!

What’d you think of our third quarterfinal performance episode? Exhausted from the number of surprisingly good routines? In disagreement over the undoubtedly blind calls I’ve made above? Indifferent? Whatever your take on the show, now’s the time to make yourself heard.

Episode Recaps

America's Got Talent
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