As Nick Cannon took to the stage and the lights went up, all the extra graphics and flashing flights made it clear: America’s Got Talent is season is about Season 9’s Top 12.  Of course they have every reason to be.  This year America managed to single out twelve stellar acts, even though a few deserving hopefuls unnecessarily fell to the wayside.  None of that matter though as the night began and act after act obliterated what was previously considered good enough to call the best.  Thanks to Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B., and Howie Mandel you guys have some tough choices to make.  Don’t forget voting on Google ends at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time.

Mara Justine
Fresh off her first day of middle school twelve year old Mara Justine sang Pink’s “F*ckin’ Perfect.”  Mara used her powerful belt to beef up the passionate tune while still attempting to connect with the song and audience emotionally.  All the judges raved over Mara’s ascension.  Unfortunately a distracting echo in Mara’s microphone pulled the focus from her performance.  Though her stunning vocals were at their usual peak, it was hard to pinpoint the real emotional connection.  If America’s feels it enough to vote for her, especially since Mara performed first, then I’ll never mention it again.

David & Leeman
Premiere magician’s David & Leeman brought their lottery ticket addiction to Radio City Music Hall.  As usual they used the judges to great success, demanding each give a number from one to ninety-nine.  Filling in their enlarged lottery ticket with the judge’s picks, David & Leeman then popped a balloon ion stage, claiming to have the winning lottery ticket.  Howard scratched off the boxes to reveal all the numbers matched except for his, which was off by one.  Just and David & Leeman convinced me they failed with a well-placed, “One off is good enough for the finals.” They took off their jackets to show they already predicted this predicament.  Of course the entire performance was crammed full of this duo’s perfectly mastered shtick.  Final without them is something I don’t want to see.

Sons of Serendip
At first, it seemed like Sons of Serendip made a miscalculation.  Their usual dream like instrumental’s and their regularly wonderful soloist sounded just as always.  But doing the bare minimum doesn’t work for this caliber of competition, which is why the build in Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” was a game changer.  The soloist hit the first chorus he let his vocals go and pushed his voice to new heights through every note left in the ballad.  The judges spent their few minutes pleading with the voting audience to make sure these treasures don’t go home.

Christian Stoinev
Taking Howard’s constructive criticism to heart Christian Stoinev let the aforementioned judge hold Scooby returned to his stage roots.  Quick question, does that count if he used Scooby 2 to open his routine, balancing atop a gold spray painted basketball?  Afterward he climbed some stairs to show off his hand balancing skills.  Moving between six different pedestal bars Christian focused on his crafted by jumping from bar to bar and using his hands.  Christian contorted and move his body in some truly challenging shapes.  Too bad the act still felt incomplete.  If Christian fins away into next week’s finals, he’ll have to figure out some way to balance showcasing Scooby and his strength.

Emil & Dariel
Breaking with their tradition, Emil & Dariel started their performance slowly.  Choosing a rock ballad, they were able to still play up their rock personas while connecting with viewers.  Their slow build to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Close My Eyes” did a lot to increase their build.  That, their stellar band, and their use of Howard’s much prompted vocal support in the form of a choir belting out the lyrics everyone loves.  Though the boys were great as usual, Heidi and Howard found their routine slightly lacking.  Without a doubt the voters will disprove that theory quickly tomorrow.

It’s as if AcroArmy thought starting their performance by having two female gymnasts hand balancing using their porter’s hands for supports wasn’t enough.  They simply had to toss one of the women from the judges table across that gap to the stage.  The move set the tone for the rest of the performance though.  As usual they spread across the stage moving as a unit.  They built their usual large human totem pole, but upped the ante by having the top person balance off the group at the top.  Of course, the real show stopper was their various dangerous catches of the nights.

Quintavious Johnson:
Sticking to his winning formula Quintavious Johnson sang Mary J. Blige’s classic powerhouse hit “I’m Going Down.”  Careful to spend the first verse and chorus to show the softer and skilled side of his voice, Quintavious didn’t rest there.  He spent the rest of the song belting out the words.  The best thing about Quintavious is no matter how he challenges his instrument, Quintavious’s voice always rises to the occasion.  The judges drooled ad nauseum—his place in the finals is all but assured.  Don’t hold his matching grey suit against him—he’s just a kid after all.

Mike Super
Returning to the stage without his creepy friend Desmond Mike Super tried out what he called his riskiest trick to date.  None days ago, Mike made a prediction based on the spending habits of the love audience. Amazingly the number he chose more than a week ago matched the foot from last night’s performance. Although the judges wasted no time fawning over Mike, his position doesn’t seem all too secure. In the midst of two slightly flashier magic acts, Mike could be an afterthought.

Blue Journey
Continuing their streak of breaking the dancing 4th wall, Blue Journey looked like a pair of winners.  Injecting some traditional ballet movies with their background interaction of a sea of doors and mysteries their feet created.  Don’t try it at home though—these two have perfected their use of the floor as another backdrop.  Seeing the two jump in and out of endless doors and play with shadows with uncanny expertise Blue Journey felt like a real contender.

Emily West
Keeping in line with her live show uniform, Emily West looked every bit the professional songbird in the ‘40’s glamour curls and form fitting gown.  Moody Blue’s “Nights in White Satin” became hers as every song she performs does.  No one else had that much control over their voice, except maybe the soloist in Sons of Serendip.  Howard Said it best: the key to Emily‘s success is that she is gimmick free.  She is just a woman with a voice that knows no equal.  There’s no question that America will push Emily into her rightful place into eh finals.  The real mystery is what song Emily will destroy and reclaim in the finals.

Mat Franco
At the judges table, Mat Franco borrowed Mel’s cell phone and kept it safe in a box.  He showed the cards to the camera and challenged all the viewers to pick a card.  Using his card cannon he fired the deck all around the stage, stick the card yours truly spotted, the King of Hearts, up on the ceiling.  Apparently that’s the one everyone else saw too, but Mat moved right into his next trick.  Howard selected a four of spades and signed it.  Even though Mat put the cared in the middle of the deck, every time he or any of the judges snapped the card Howard signed jumped to the top of the deck.  To close, Mat made Mel lift her phone, which had been sitting on a box.  In that box was a folded up card that just happened to be Howard’s.  How Mat pulled it off we’ll never know, but that’s why he has to move on.

Miguel Dakota
Singing The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” Miguel Dakota closed the show with a long line of powerful backup singers.  It seemed like Miguel made a real effort to connect with the material this time. That doesn’t mean he was actually able to do it though. Ultimately Miguel’s performance amounted to the same floppy hair and smile that always pushes him through. What the producers were playing at by scheduling him last is anyone’s guess. Ending the show with Howie feeding into an empty pop identity for Miguel whilst Howard and Heidi pile on disappointed remarks and Mel champions him for no real reason. Whether America drinks the Kool-Aide and gives the competition to a cute kid is a problem for tomorrow.

Who Should Advance: Emily West, David & Leeman, Mat Franco, Sons of Serendip, Quintavious Johnson, AcroArmy, Emil & Dariel