Things get twisted on 'America's Got Talent.' And Piff the Magic Dragon is back!
Credit: Eric Liebowitz/NBC

The preliminary auditions are over on America’s Got Talent. It’s time for the judges to start culling the competition. In this round, there are 20 acts with only seven available spots bound for Radio City Music Hall. Nick, in a jaunty hat, calls for reinforcements. Make some room on the panel, people. Welcome Neil Patrick Harris to the stage.

Tough decisions will have to be made. Let’s see which acts advanced to the next round, and which acts stopped short thanks to Howard’s itchy buzzer finger…


Dance Company

Why you remember them: Dancers performing with very cool video mapping

Freelusion’s principal dancers once again squeeze into their flesh-colored leotards and perform a stunning routine with vivid colors and video work. The story picks up where we last left our dancers—in the Garden of Eden. A haunting rendition of “What a Wonderful World” provides a creepy platform to introduce Evil into the group. It was extremely creative. I like that there is a clear theme. That’s what’s going to set them apart from other dance groups.

Paul Ponce


Why you remember him: Juggled hats that moved like boomerangs

Paul unwisely decides to bounce a soccer ball on his head in sync to the beat of EMF’s “Unbelievable.” While the nostalgic musical walk down 1991’s Memory Lane was a nice surprise, the act was not. Howard buzzed him from the very beginning. Howie followed when Paul touched Howie’s face. Strike two. At one point Paul pulled out a glittery whip to add some whimsy to the moment. Strike three. The only one who seemed to enjoy the performance was Paul’s mom who was waiting in the wings. You remember Sylvia Sylvia, right?

Sylvia Sylvia

Extreme Crossbow Shooter

Why you remember her: Likes to shoot arrows at her husband Victor

Sylvia’s first trick is child’s play. She shoots at a balloon Victor holds in his mouth. There was a bottle involved and it was a lot cooler than I’m explaining, but I have to get to this next part. Sylvia places an apple on her head, picks up her bow, and shoots in the direction of several other bows forming a zig-zag pattern. Her arrow flies back and forth, setting off various other arrows (think domino effect) and the last one shoots at her face. It lands directly through the apple. She begins crying. We don’t know if it’s because she’s relieved the trick is over, glad she didn’t get an arrow to the face, or sad that she totally just upstaged her son. Peace out Paul.

Chapkis Dance Company

Dance Group

Why you remember them: You don’t, so you checked the AGT YouTube channel

Even though it feels like there is a small army of dancers on the stage, Chapkis moves as one unified group. They also manage to dance while using the flashlight app on their iPhones. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true, but they did use some sort of lighting device to boost the numbers in the creativity column. Howard tried really hard to dash their dreams, but the other judges filled the dancers with encouragement.

Samantha Hess

Professional Cuddler

Why you remember her: How could you forget?

Samantha has been busy preparing for this round of competition. She has clocked 10,000 cuddling hours and invented a dozen new positions in the process. This includes “The Fortune Cookie” position, which she would like to demonstrate on one lucky judge. Neil is the chosen tribute. When Howard presses his button, NPH gives him a look of gratitude. I had to cover my face during “The Romeo.” Bless Samantha’s heart. All the judges smack their buzzers and our certified cuddler mopes off the stage into the waiting arms of Nick. Ironically, this time she is the fortune to his cookie. Way to pay attention, Nick!

Alondra Santos


Why you remember her: Young girl with a big voice

Alondra glided onto the stage in an enormous hot pink dress. She commanded every part of the song, including the raw emotion of the Spanish lyrics. It’s a bit shocking to hear such a mature voice come out of a 13-year-old body. I loved seeing her dad mouth the words to the song in the audience. Everyone agrees that Alondra definitely has something special.

Michael John


Why you remember him: Attractive former baseball player who almost kissed Mel B. in round one

Sweet, hot Michael. Oh how I wish he had a more dynamic personality. His “coin in the can” magic trick was interesting, but he lost all credibility when he couldn’t get the quarter out of the can at the conclusion of the bit. Even if he did use his muscular elbow to rip the aluminum, his stage presence was lacking. Enter Piff.

NEXT: He’s a magic dragon

Piff the Magic Dragon


Why you remember him: Dragon costume, obviously

Piff decides to step it up for round two by introducing Mr. Piffles the Pomeranian. He asks Heidi to join him (and the dog) on stage. She signs her name to a playing card. Piff instructs Mr. Piffles to find Heidi’s card. In a chaotic moment, Piff hands Heidi a can of dog food as cards go flying everywhere. Piff scolds the dog for ruining the trick. Then he opens the can of dog food and produces Heidi’s card from a thick chunk of Alpo. Neil slams his golden buzzer! Next stop? Radio City Music Hall.

MYQ Kaplan


Why you remember him: He was a blip on the radar in the first round

MYQ owned the stage. He had the judges’ panel and the audience laughing throughout his entire set. It was a constant flow of banter. Each joke landed. He’s a self-proclaimed dork who will go far.

3 Shades of Blue

Rock Band

Why you remember them: Hanson brothers plus a neighbor kid

Since we last saw 3 Shades of Blue, all four members have dropped out of college to pursue their dream of being the quintessential rock bank of their generation. And Howard is going to do whatever he can, including poisoning the other judges, to make that happen. They performed an okay version of Twenty One Pilots’ “Fairly Local.” I think it’s important for me to confess that I am not a rock band groupie. (I Googled the lyrics to the song.) Howie warns the group that they need to choose more identifiable songs so the tweens will pick up the phone and vote for them. Do you think they kind find the sheet music to “MMMBop?”

Grand Master Qi Feilong

Kung Fu Master

Why you remember him: Channels energy from the universe

Unfortunately, there was too much negative energy in the room for Grand Master to convince a pile of newspapers to light itself on fire. All the judges were slamming any buzzer they could find. It’s the end of the road for this guy and his translator.

Samantha Johnson


Why you remember her: Brought the house down with “Natural Woman”

Samantha sings a smooth R&B version of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” which issues a sultry “hey now” from Neil Patrick Harris. All the judges love her voice, but it is Neil who suggests that she manage her expectations. With all the other “singing shows” out there, it’s hard for a vocalist to win America’s Got Talent. I agree with him.

Now that all 20 acts have performed, the judges take some time to deliberate. And by “deliberate,” I mean argue, snap at each other, and sacrifice some acts for other acts. Immediately X-Treme Tricking and Tumbling (who we did not see audition) are sent home. The judges break the hearts of the entire L.A. Children’s Orchestra by sending them packing, too. Little boys and girls cried tears into their violins. Surprisingly the Chapkis Dance Group made it.

Next on the chopping block, Nick summons hot Michael John, crooner Keith Klein, and comedian MYQ Kaplan. It was a no brainer that the comedian would be the lucky participant booking a trip to NYC. Congratulations MYQ. Call me Michael!

Moments later, Nick brings out Freelusion, Duo Ignite (aerialists who incorporated fire), and gymnastics duo Marc and Kiri to the stage. It’s Freelusion by a landslide. Duh.

Mini hip hoppers Elin and Noah, Contortionist Vibez, and 3 Shades of Blue make their way to the judges’ table. It’s good-bye for two of the three acts. And since rock will never die, it’s 3 Shades of Blue who will be stuffing their gear into a van headed east.

It’s time for the singers to seal their fate. Easy listening lovers Nick and Eddie are up against Samantha and Alondra. To my surprise, Samantha’s name is called. Sweet Alondra hugs her competition tight and wishes her well. I’m sure it’s not the last we will hear from this young girl.

And finally, it’s Sylvia Sylvia in a spotlight next to her son Paul. Unable to stand the distance between them, Sylvia and Victor close the gap and join Paul in his spotlight. Howie announces that Sylvia will be moving on to the next round. She cries as Paul offers to schlep her bags around New York City.

That’s it for the first round of cuts. Were you disappointed or shocked by any of the eliminations? Are you a fan of Piff the Magic Dragon as much as the judges seem to be? Are you sad that Michael John didn’t get through? Maybe he should try to perform his magic shirtless next time.

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