America’s Got Talent Season 16 kicked off its live quarterfinals Tuesday (following a three-week hiatus while NBC aired the Summer Olympics), and near the top of the two-hour episode, host Terry Crews announced that while 36 acts usually make it to AGT’s live shows, this year the judges supposedly could only agree on 35 — and were therefore leaving it up to viewers to select the final contestant, via some sort of wild-card special streaming on Peacock.
It wasn’t clear if this was actually because Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer act, singer-songwriter Nightbirde, sadly had to drop out at the last minute to focus on her cancer battle. But of the five acts vying for that 36th spot, three of them were standout singers in their own right, all of whom I’d assumed had a great shot at making the cut — wunderkind musician Dylan Zangwill, ex-Rock Star Supernova powerhouse Storm Large, and crooner Matt Mauser (the family man whose wife died in the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash) — along with kid magician Patrick Kun and dad-joke comedian Mike Goodwin.
Surprisingly, though, one contestant that did advance straight to live shows — and competed Tuesday without having to languish in any Peacock purgatory like the above-mentioned, arguably much more talented hopefuls — was novelty act Sethward.
Costumed prop comic Sethward had tried out for AGT repeatedly before finally making it through this season on his fourth attempt — despite getting a red X from Simon before he’d even started — by dressing up as some sort wardrobe-malfunctioning peacock. (Hey, whatever it takes to synergistically promote NBC’s sister streaming service, right?) This week, he showed up (to the background music of Katy Perry’s “Peacock,” naturally) looking like a peacock on steroids, with a ridiculous stage-width wingspan. He then suffered a Spinal Tap-style pyrotechnic malfunction and caught aflame, before rising from the ashes of the stagehands’ fire extinguishers like a literal phoenix.
It was mildly amusing, if only for a few seconds — although Simon barely lasted even that long, exasperatedly whacking his red X button almost immediately. And while Sethward had some vocal fans on Twitter, he certainly wasn’t a potentially million-dollar act more worthy of being in the top 36 than say, Storm Large, whose audition Simon had adored. Come on, did the judges really choose to let this birdbrain go through?
“It’s amazing how he’s able to make nothing out of so much,” quipped dazed and confused judge Howie Mandel, before he blatantly added, “For me, this is the ultimate promo for my documentary. Start streaming tonight on Peacock!”
“I was laughing, but I’m not sure at what,” said Heidi Klum. “I’m so happy you finally made it here, because it was your biggest dream. Now you’re here on the live show and I’m happy for you… but I didn’t get it.”
Simon, of course, didn’t even pretend to be happy for Sethward, grumbling, “It was absolutely, bloody awful. We can now officially call the show America Does Not Have Talent.”
Sethward remained undeterred, however, proudly telling Terry, “Listen, it’s really hard to get on this stage. It takes a lot of guts. If I can do it, you can too!”
Well, hopefully Dylan, Storm, or Matt can get on the AGT stage eventually. But when and if they do, they’ll face some stiff competition this singer-heavy season, namely from this week’s pimp-spot performer (and judge Sofia Vergara’s Golden Buzzer pick), Jimmie Herrod. From the moment Jimmie started off a cappella, this song stylist stunned with his bell-clear, pure falsetto on the fanciful Willy Wonka classic “Pure Imagination.” This was theater, and this was magic. Simon told Jimmie, “You’re one of those singers — unlike a lot of people on these shows which you forget the following day — that you’ll never forget this performance. You’ll never forget this voice. And I mean this as a compliment: You’re an artist I see headed straight to Broadway.”
So, on Wednesday’s live results show, seven of this week’s dozen quarterfinalists will advance to the semifinals, and I think Jimmie is a shoo-in, while Sethward definitely is not. As for the other six contestants I predict will make it, they’re edgy standup comic Kabir Singh, animal act Canine Stars, 10-year-old balladeer Peter Rosalita, quirky singer-songwriter Madilyn Bailey, daredevil escape artist Matt Johnson, and either harmony trio 1aChord or bluegrass/hip-hop band Gangsta Grass — while second-rate magician Dustin Tavella, Alyssa Edwards-mentored dance company Beyond Belief, and another comedian, Gina Brillin, will probably go home.
See you then, when hopefully the voting audience gets it right and this series can once again be called America’s Got Talent.
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