By Henning Fog
Updated September 17, 2009 at 12:55 PM EDT

Really?!? Less than four months after Susan Boyle — who performed tonight — was robbed of her rightful victory on Britain’s Got Talent, so did the same story unfold for opera singer (and front-runner) Barbara Padilla across the pond. Making it to the Top Ten, her chances of winning looked good; in a Top Five that excluded Hairo Torres and Lawrence Beamen, her chances looked great. Then the final roll call: “Kevin Skinner and Barbara Padilla, please step forward.” Silence. Tension. They stand still, anxiously awaiting the final result. Kevin, overcome with the weight of the moment, keeps his eyes on the ground; Barbara tries hard to settle on an emotion. Another long pause. Nick opens the envelope…”KEVIN SKINNER!” Eyebrows arch dangerously and Twitter seizes up as a nation attempts to understand what just happened.

So how do you feel? Going into the night, even money (the prize is a Vegas show; gambling is only appropriate) was on either Barbara Padilla or rock group Recycled Percussion to win it all. In both their favors were a string of powerful, confident performances that earned them consistent praise from the judges. “You are a true Vegas act,” Piers told Percussion on more than one occasion, and Padilla — well, she’s been their top pick for some time now. I imagine they’re kicking themselves right now for giving Kevin Skinner so much ammunition along the way.

It’s not that Skinner’s a bad singer, or even undeserving of a place in the Top Five (Top Two…we’re sort of pushing it.) He’s clearly a talented guy with a unique ability to connect with an audience. What he isn’t, though, is a Vegas performer. Or even a consistent performer. Did you hear him sing on Monday, or tonight with Thelma Houston? That Skinner received more votes than any other contestant speaks more to his audition round performance than any he’s given since. He was, in that brief moment in time, a revelation — the American Susan Boyle we were all desperate to claim for our own. Over the next few rounds he’d be supplanted by the likes of Padilla, Lawrence Beamen, and Recycled Percussion…but voters clearly held on to the image of the charming chicken-catcher, innocent and sweet. It seems clear that in America we like our stars — and even pseudo-stars — “just like us.”

But forget those final results — everything we’ve talked about so far came with only five minutes left in the program! For nearly two hours before that we were treated to a buffet of special guest performances, the return of audition round rejects, and one last trip to the famous Orville Redenbacher lounge. For a show ostensibly about grooming future stars, tonight seemed much more keen to focus on the past. As any movie with flashbacks can tell you, this almost always takes two hours.

The night got off to an oddly captivating start when Thelma Houston took the stage with all 10 finalists to sing “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Okay, so Grandma Lee didn’t really sing (she introduced the number and danced a little bit) but everyone else was nicely enmeshed in the performance. Drew Stevyns and Lawrence Beamen even looked like they were holding their own with Thelma — no small feat considering the time they probably had to put the routine together.

Leona Lewis performed “Happy,” the first single from her upcoming album, and chatted with Nick a bit about her own reality competition road to fame. It would be wishful thinking to consider America’s Got Talent on a par with American Idol (or even X-Factor, Lewis’ alma mater) for career-making opportunities, but the fact is that all of these shows can and do produce real talent.

Of course they also produce crap, as evidenced by the “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” medley sung by audition round rejects. All your favorites were back!: the screaming singer, the suitcase girls, the weird red-headed man. It was cool to see them be able to poke fun at themselves (I think), but you have to wonder if this interlude (and others) could have been excised to save time. We didn’t even get any real contestant moments until 9 p.m.!

Cirque Du Soleil performed, but without any 10-year-old acrobats or tight-rope walkers. Shakira dry-humped the stage in her “She Wolf” performance. (Nice!) Somewhere between those two acts, five of the 10 finalists — Hairo Torres, Lawrence Beamen, Drew Stevyns, Grandma Lee, and Fab Five — were given their walking papers. A real shame for both Beamen or Stevyns, who at this point had long ago surpassed Kevin Skinner in vocal quality, and a downright egregious error with Torres. He should have been in the Top Five at least.

Not too much later, the fifth, fourth, and third place contestants — Voices of Glory, Texas Tenors, and Recycled Percussion respectively — were also cast off, asked to ponder their fate in a less prominent part of the stage. Time for professional assistance! Rascal Flatts performed, basically wearing “Team Skinner” t-shirts. Likewise Susan Boyle (who sang a much slower version of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”) might have worn a fashionable “Team Padilla” brooch in support of her own operatic kin. Sides chosen. Lines drawn in the sand. Our Top Two alone and nervous…and our recap finally come full circle.

That’s it! I’d like to thank all of you who have joined me in watching and reading this summer — your comments on the show itself and my “reporting” of it have made the experience that much better. I really could not have done it without you. Some of us may never be friends (hi, Dexter!), but I hope that after this endless summer together we’ve at least become chums. We’re chums, right? Right. As always, fill the comments section with your thoughts on any subject even tangentially related to America’s Got Talent! Our show, now and forever.

Episode Recaps

America's Got Talent

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