America's Got Talent Season 9 Judges' Graphic
In perhaps the best decision in America’s Got Talent history, Nick Cannon quietly opened the show in his dashing suit by cutting to Howie Mandel.  The comedian took the time to honor a legendary stand-up performer an actor whose sudden loss the world is still reeling from: the recently late and very great Robin Williams.  Howie praised the man for his genius, and kindness, and called for the hopefuls backstage to try to fill the enormous whole that Robin’s loss has left on the world of entertainment and happiness.  Heidi Klum, Mel B. and Howard Stern looked on in respectful silence, willing the contestants to fall in line with Howie’s earnest pleas.  And even though they answered Howie wish to resounding success, it’s necessary to pause and say that if you are sad, it you struggle with the darkness of life, if depression is your bedfellow, please seek help.  (If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

To one Mr. Robin Williams, now and forever more: Bangarang.

Dragon House “The Agents”
In a competition where magicians and variety acts are constantly upping the ante, it’s hard for dancers and singers to coast on the same laurel in each performance.  Dragon House “The Agents” performed their usual combination of pop lock, slow motion, animation like synchronicity.  Unfortunately, it’s the fact that their routine was so similar to the previous two that dragged them down.  Their contortionism was enough to warrant praise from Howie and Mel B., but the white suits and back up dancers weren’t enough to distract Howard and Heidi from the repetitiveness.

Anna Clendening
As a young woman plagued with crippling anxiety, it was a welcome surprise to see Anna Clendening’s updated blonde hairstyle and her bold choice to perform on a tulip covered island in the middle of the audience.  Her performance of “Only Human” was delightful, but never reached any vocally impressive heights.  Howie’s glowing commentary that focused completely on Anna’s overcoming her anxiety for the performance that the actual song made it clear which direction most judges’ would swing.  Predictably, Heidi and Mel lauded applause, but though Howard complemented her new look he wasn’t afraid to note the lack of passion in this performance.

Cornell Bhangra
Truthfully, my expectations are never high for groups that circumvent the usual order of ascension in this competition.  Often times, groups that are injected into the competition without already overcoming the fear of performing in a venue of extreme magnitude falter at the live shows.  Cornell Bhangra obliterated any preconceived notions, though at the beginning it seemed they’d be just another good dance group.  Their Indian infused routine got interesting when a purple panted leader distinguished himself.  Showing off the groups pop lock prowess, they sped up and increased the difficulty of their movies and they swarmed the judges table.  The intensity of their finale caused uproarious applause and a standing ovation from nearly all the judges.  Perhaps the groups absence from the main stage aided them this time—I doubt anyone was expecting something so fabulous.

Kieran & Finian Makepeace
Being always ready to champion a great band, Kieran & Finian Makepeace didn’t let me down, even if most of the judges’ commentary did.  Performing Ellie Goulding’s pop hit “Lights” in a slow stunted form, they hooked me with their quiet passion before opening up to a stronger rock interpretation of the tune.  As an artist, Mel B. saw the musicianship and beauty in their rendition.  The rest of the judges were rather unimpressed.  Hopefully the voters can see a quality group even when the judges can’t.

Mike Super
As Mike Super returns to the stage, with him comes his spirit aide Desmond, and the begrudging duality of emotions his performances induce.  That he completes amazing tricks is undeniable; that he insists on doing it by invoking his spirit guide and lifelong imaginary friend is kind of creepy.  After a package where his wife and young kids testify to Dad’s imaginary friend constantly being in their lives, Mike found a way to amp up the weird.  Pulling Mel B. on stage, he pulled out a crude wooden doll with a creepy skull like face, calling it his spice doll.  Putting Desmond “inside” Mel B., he first showed their connection by tapping the dolls right shoulder, causing Desmond to do the same to Mel.  The real shocker was him burning the dolls arms, causing Mel to confess warmth in her palms and reveal two small spots of ash in the center of her hands.  Closing by using a Taser on the doll and shocking Mel, there’s no denying there’s something there, as proven by the judges responses.  But I have to agree with Howard here—I’d rather see Mike without Desmond.

Adrian Romoff
This nine year old eighth grader and tenth grade bound genius can’t help but impress.  Adrian Romoff is a rare find, and should be treated as such.  Perched on a high platform, Adrian pounded away at the keys, passion spilling out onto the audience just as fervently as the beautiful music it caused.  The judges took turns praising the child—we’ll see if America does the same.

AcroArmy
It would be impossible not to fall in love with the splendor of AcroArmy’s perfectly crafted routine.  After a dancer in red dove from a dangerously high platform into two dancers waiting arms, half the group performed small stunning tricks as the rest formed a standing human pyramid for a beautiful younger dancer to climb and use as her support of a dangerous hand balance halfway to the rafters.  The surprises never stopped, and when the dancer in red performed a one handed hand balance on another dancers head, it was clear this group is headed straight to the semi-finals.  The judges begged viewers to vote but this group hardly needs that—everyone can see they are the best of the best.

Wendy Liebman
Comedians have a tough time making it to the stage, but if they can hold mustard they make it far.  Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case for a female funny girl in quite some time.  After Wendy Liebman’s set it’s clear that won’t be true much longer.  Beginning with a great line about finding twenty dollars in a Starbucks tip cup, she catapulted into a joke about the female judges Twitter feeds inspired her new three part bikini.  You know the kind with a top, a bottom, and a blindfold for the viewing public.  After that Wendy did and amazing run about her age, constantly mumbling under her breath in a hilarious way while making remarks that steadily increased her age from 45 to 53.  Even as she made a few cracks about spending vast amounts of money and asking The Bank of Daddy for a loan, she brought it back to the age for the closer.  Being able to work your best joke into your final statement is always a sign of a talented and seasoned stand- up artist.  The judges demanded she see the next round and America, so do I.

Sons of Serendip
College buddies Sons of Serendip bring a new and decidedly attractive face to the kind of group that usually contains a soloist, a harpist, a cellist, and a pianist.  (Seriously guys, you could have just stood there.)  Luckily these guys are so talented they don’t have to rely on their good looks.  Their rendition of Chris Isaak’s already dreamy tune “Wicked Games” took on an even more ethereal air in their hands.  The perfect melodic sounds of their soloist and his accompanier did the justice to the powerfully soothing and moving harp, cello, and piano strums.  Each judge took the time to ooze their pleasure onto these deserving contestants, increasing their glowing remarks with each turn.  There can be no semi-final without them.

Blue Journey
Just when I thought the night couldn’t get more talented, another group increases the burden of excellence.  Blue Journey used background animation punctuated with animated shadows, hands, and moving abstract scenery to emphasize their moves.  After leaping around in a romantic duet highlighted by a soft spotlight, they broke the bounds of usual dance performances.  With their animations reflected on the stage floor, the duo laid down to perform the most stunning part of the r routine.  Contorting and moving their bodies as if they were floating in air and jumping from hand to hand.  The rarity of their technique was the reason for the all of the judges standing ovation, as well as Mel’s wish that they win the competition.

Christian Stoinev (and Scooby)
This amazing and rather gorgeous hand balancer has returned, and his little dog too.  Ever since Christian Stoinev balanced his entire body on a single finger that was stuck in a champagne bottle during his original audition his been a favorite—the introduction of his little dog helper Scooby made him beloved.   Their return just pushed their status into high gear; Christian’s warm up hand balancing move could have been the finale, as he began balancing on the bars with red, white, and blue cushions, before knocking them off without falling in swift and graceful moves.  After, his Chihuahua Scooby popped out of his sparkling backpack, first moving in and out of Christian’s feet like a set of zig-zagged cones.  Then the main attraction: Scooby’s headstrong crawl up Christian’s body as he again balanced on the handstand bars, before jumping onto his owners feet high in the air.  Crawling back down Christian’s body to his back Scooby stood on his hind legs and pumped his front legs in the air as Christian spun his entire body around the bars slowly, one handed.  To close, Scooby walked across the stage on his front legs, proving his owner isn’t the only one who knows a thing or two about balancing.  With the number of acts deserving a place in the semi-finals crowing by another one and a half, one can only guess what will happen on the results show.

Paul Ieti
Last night’s closing act did nothing to decrease the pressure voters and the contestants are under.  Paul Ieti performed One Direction’s “You & I” in a way they never could.  The rich soulful quality of his vocals elevated the tune, adding an element of sophistication one really associates with a One Direction song.  All the judges praised him, but though Howard enjoyed Paul’s performance, he wondered if it would be enough in the face of last night’s amazing outpouring of talent.

Who Should Advance: Adrian Romoff, Blue Journey, Mike Super, Songs of Serendip, AcroArmy, Paul Ieti, Wendy Liebman, Kiernan & Finian Makepeace, Christian Stoinev, and Cornell Bhangra.  Yes that’s every act that graced the stage, minus two.  It’s my job to identify the deserving acts, and yours to single out the best America.  Your votes have never been more important.  Voting is open until Noon at Eastern Standard Time today so go do your duty.