In the 11 years that NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” has been on, I’ve never felt compelled to watch a single episode.
From seeing enough previews, I knew it drew a hodgepodge of contestants from too many different fields. I mean, how can you judge who’s the most talented when they come from a multitude of different disciplines, such as singing, acrobatics, dancing, and magic?
But I felt compelled to tune in when two pre-teen Asian American singers made the semi-finals: 9 year old Celine Tam and 10 year old Angelica Hale. In June, video of Tam singing “My Heart Will Go On” by (the performer she was named after) Celine Dion was widely shared on social media. I couldn’t believe the power of her voice and the control she had over it.
Monday night, the Hong Kong-born performer and her younger sister acted in a funny skit where it seems all the acclaim had gone to Celine’s head (she turns down autographs requests on the street, lounges by a pool with sunglasses on as her idol Celine Dion calls).
Tam sang “How Far I’ll Go” from the popular movie “Moana”. As one of the judges pointed out, it didn’t have the range of the “Titanic” classic, but it showed her ability to sing something with a more aggressive melody.
Hale, a Filipino American from Atlanta, got a rough start in life. At the age of four, she almost died from a severe bacterial pneumonia, which led to multiple organ failures. Her right lung was permanently scarred, and her kidneys weren’t working for a year until she got a transplant from her mother. Yet she too demonstrated vocal power singing David Guetta’s “Without You,” impressively sliding in and out of falsetto and belting the chorus.
On Monday night, 11 acts performed and after the votes were counted, they would be whittled down to five the next night. Here’s who I felt should make the Top Five: Tam, Colin Cloud, Mandy Harvey, Diavolo, and Hale.
Cloud, a Scottish Mentalist, asked the public to send him tweets naming a celebrity, city, and object. He printed one copy of each, gave them out to the studio audience, and asked them to verify that none of them were duplicates. He asked celebrity judge Mel B to choose a card, then let fellow judge Heidi Klum pick one of the three phrases found on that page. The outcome: “Ellen, Rome, Cheese.”
Then Cloud showed videotape of him in disguise stalking the various judges during the past week, holding up a sign with those three words written on a poster. On stage, he turned over what looked like a framed picture of numbers that also revealed the three words. What the– that’s impossible! An automatic finalist right there.
Twenty-Nine-year-old Harvey was born with hearing problems, had operations trying to improve them, but lost her residual hearing (leaving her with the inability to hear high frequency sounds) when she was 18 due to a disorder that affected her nerves. Still, she’s managed to sing and record three albums and performed an original song effortlessly. How can you sing on key when you can’t hear everything? Amazing.
Diavolo is an acrobatic dance group of about 16 members, which incorporates architecture into their dance routines. Monday night, they ran what looked like a three ring circus with acrobats doing many unusual, eye-catching stunts like jumping out of a rolling ferris wheel on the ground.
The six acts I thought should be rejected: Light Balance, a Ukrainian dance outfit of some 16 members who dance in hi tech neon outfits; formerly blind, chunky 17-year-old singer Christian Guardino; 12-year-old Merrick Hanna, a robotic dancer who didn’t talk to people until he got into robots whom he called his best friends (!); In theStairwell, an a capella vocal group of men from the U.S. Air Force who dressed in shirts and long ties and reminded me of a cross between Hitler’s Youth and ‘70s German techno band Kraftwerk; Kechi, a woman who in 2005 was one of only two survivors of a plane crash which killed 107 out of 109 people (the singer still suffers from third degree burns over most of her body); and probably the worse, the Pompeyo Family.
For 10 years, the husband/wife (Columbian/Kazahstan) team adopted dogs from animal shelters and trained them to do various tricks. Monday night, they dressed them up as penguins and, with their young kids, made them walk on two legs for short periods of time, lean on each other, and jump through hoops in an Arctic background. Does the ASPCA know about these guys? Forget about what Sea World put dolphins through. Would the dogs have rather remained at those shelters? Quick, call a dog psychic to the stage!
Tuesday night, the top three vote getters were: Angelica Hale, Mandy Harvey, and Light Battle. The acts that got the fourth, fifth, and sixth most votes were Colin Cloud, Diavolo, and Kechi. The east coast audience had half an hour to vote to save one of them (they picked Kechi), and the judges were asked to rescue one of the remaining two.
They chose Diavolo.
Eliminated were two of my five picks: Celine Tam and Colin Cloud. Meaning both America and the judges were nuts. Tam is a gifted singer and would be considered so at any age. When you consider that she’s only nine, that puts her in a rare class. Cloud’s stunt was impossible to explain. Based on all 11 performances, quite frankly, he should’ve won the entire contest.
Kechi is not an extraordinary vocalist (in fact, she hit some cringe-worthy notes Monday night), but her story is dramatic. Still, this isn’t “America’s Got Sob Stories.” And if you’re going to make it into the Top Five as a singer, you better be on the level of an “American Idol” contestant. Kechi clearly isn’t.
Light Battle basically danced in place next to each other in neon outfits with each of them taking turns fading to black and into the background, but it was repetitive. This isn’t “America’s Got Gimmicks!”
The finals air Monday night with the million dollar winner (who also gets a Vegas show) announced Tuesday.
Guy Aoki is the Founding President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) the first all-volunteer, non-profit organization solely dedicated to monitoring the mass media and advocating balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans. For almost 25 years, he wrote the “Into the Next Stage” media column for the Rafu Shimpo and for 17 years wrote syndicated radio shows for Dick Clark. His views do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.