AGT 5th Judge: Yu Hojin Best Magician Ever? — Plus, Chapel Hart Wows Again, Front-Runner Falters

With four amazing performances and only two advancing, we're already mad at the results and they aren't even in yet!

The most brutal round of the most brutal season of “America’s Got Talent” continued this week, and we’re already frustrated with the results and they haven’t even happened yet.

That’s because, like last week, only two of tonight’s eleven acts will advance straight to the finale. Yes, there’s a single Wild Card act that will be picked out of the nine acts across five weeks that get eliminated. But even that isn’t enough to make us feel better.

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That’s because there were four absolutely incredible acts tonight and it’s a tragedy to imagine losing any one of them, much less the reality that we’re going to have to lose two.

Tonight’s lineup included comedians Mr. Pants and Aiko Tanaka, magician Yu Hojin, aerialists Duo Rings, The Pack Drumline, and dancers Fusion Japan. The Brown Brothers continued their hybrid of music and impressions while singers Maddie, Wyn Starks, Freckled Zelda and Chapel Hart rounded out the night.

We definitely got some finale-worthy performances, as almost every act stepped up their game in an incredible way. And, as Howie Mandel put it, one act took it beyond that and gave a headliner-worthy performance as if they were a special guest coming to the show as a professional rather than a contestant. Yes, this night was that good.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

And just for fun, I’m gonna rank them from worst to first to see how my favorites do and then we can see how you did — i.e., if you agreed with me.

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Freckled Zelda

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(singer) From her early singing to her playing of the ocarina, Freckled Zelda seemed more consumed by nerves than when she was getting a sour response during her first audition. It was as if that need to prove herself the first time out fueled her, but now that she’s been accepted, she was in her head too much. “The Neverending Story” was a great song choice, but she did not deliver the magic this time around that we got from her the first time she took the “AGT” stage.

Aiko Tanaka

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(comedian) With a lot of very pregnant pauses and awkward line deliveries, Aiko did not have a great set tonight. She was clearly in her head way more than her first time out. The material was pretty hit-and-miss for us, as well. She is very endearing and charming in general and has a very unassuming stage presence that makes you want to root for her. But we needed some consistency and some sense of what this was supposed to be about. It just never came together.

Mr. Pants

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(comedian) With nary a repeat in any of his material, this audience had no idea what to do with Mr. Pants, but we found him completely charming. His delivery was very much in that Steven Wright deadpan style (with a bit more energy) and the same kind of non-sequiturs save for a few linked bits. It was all pants-related puns and we know people love to groan at puns. But considering what a daunting undertaking this was, we think he put on a very entertaining show. Not enough to advance, but fun nonetheless. Simon, of course, X’d him.

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Maddie

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(singer) Maddie made an unexpected song choice after “Amazing Grace” with “Higher Love,” and while it was a fun performance, it didn’t stand out nearly as much as her initial audition. This is a one-shot chance to fight for the finale with only two acts advancing. She needed to pull out all the stops and try to outdo that performance vocally and emotionally. She did neither. We know she’s got the goods to blow us away, but it didn’t happen here — she even went off key a few too many times. We thought she’d be a front-runner to advance, but we’re not seeing it after this.

Fusion Japan

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(dancers) This was at parts brilliant and at parts a garbled mess. Every time the guys were lifting the girls, it seemed like the skirts were just ruining whatever aesthetic they were going for, making the moves look awkward and sloppy. Alone, the women were sensational with great intensity and powerful moves. Alone, the guys were powerful and impressive with some of their classic b-boy moves. The fusion was a little more jarring this time around, for some reason, and the two disparate styles didn’t always gel smoothly or well. But when they did, it was mesmerizing.

Wyn Starks

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(singer) Wyn still has an effortlessly incredible voice, but this song didn’t do him any favors on a night of incredibly strong competition. We already know he has a stellar voice with shocking range and impeccable control, so what needed to happen to stand out on this night was for him to impact us emotionally more than just impress us technically. A stronger song choice might have done that. As it stands, we’re just impressed with his talent, but we weren’t touched.

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The Brown Brothers

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(impressionists/musicians) The guys definitely found a way to showcase more of what they can do and teased different ways that this could be expanded into a bigger experience. With the reveal that the instrumentalist half of them can basically play any instrument, we loved that he got to showcase that while the impressionist brother featured a lot of fictional characters this time around. There’s a lot of creativity in how they presented their talent this time, at one point with four version of each of them performing at the same time. The whole routine had us imagining other ways they could get even more creative, which shows the potential of the act.

The Pack Drumline

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(percussionists) That was a palpable performance with an incredible sense or urgency. You could feel through the screen how much this opportunity meant for the whole group, and they brought an incredible improvement over their first appearance. There were times when they were incredibly tight with their drumming and moves, and others where this frantic, kinetic energy took over. But the whole thing just felt like an adrenaline rush from start to finish, leaving us exhilarated and wanting more. That’s how you fight for only two spots! “For this moment, we were free tonight,” they said.

Chapel Hart

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(singers) The song didn’t have quite the pop as “You Can Have Him Jolene,” but the girls were definitely back in town and in fine form. There’s a hunger in this group where you can see how hard they’ve fought to break into country music and they’re really hoping this will help them inject themselves sideways into the format. Their passion is palpable and their harmonies really are spectacular. Even though we don’t love the song as much, it’s still a solid country banger, and we appreciated the rap bridge in there. It’s definitely a trio with a lot of firepower and potential.

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Yu Hojin

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(magician) We weren’t so sure that Yu could step up on this stage after a solid-but-not-stellar initial audition, but he really blew us away with his rapid sleight of hand sequence creating a series of various objects out of nothing and back again followed by a very impressive picture and message transformation. On top of that, we liked his speaking and opening up his story a bit in the routine a bit, as well. On a night of great performances, he’s definitely made a huge statement about why he deserves a shot — we’re just not sure there are enough slots.

Duo Rings

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(aerialists) Even better than their first performance, the timing and musicality of this entire performance was so sensational. Pulling off rings stunts in time with the music and hitting certain marks flawlessly is magical. And the creativity of the stunts they did, their trust, strength and connection. This was by far the best rings routine we’ve ever seen on a stage like this, and that’s by a very wide margin. It was like aerial dance with heart and narrative and stunning choreography. That was a magical experience.

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PREDICTIONS

Unlike last week’s first round of semi-finals, there were definitely way more than two acts that deserve a spot in the finale. In fact, we’d happily put our entire Top 4 into it because they had more heart and passion, we think, than all but one act from the first week.

We thought we had it figured out when Duo Rings blew us away with the best aerial act we’d ever seen, with them and The Pack Drumline advancing. Then Yu Hojin brought his act to a level we’d never have anticipated and Chapel Hart blew the roof off the place again.

For us, these are the four acts who really showed how much this opportunity meant to them. And while it’s early to predict such a thing, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Wild Card act that fills the 11th slot in the Finale came from one of these two acts that don’t advance Wednesday night.

As for who will advance, we’re going to put our money on Chapel Hart and Yu Hojin. While Duo Rings was our favorite act of the night, aerial rings acts are a tough sell when you’ve got more traditionally understood (and widely appreciated) fare like singing and magic.

But we could easily see the judges putting either The Pack Drumline or Duo Rings into the finale as that Wild Card, or America if they wind up getting the vote. This is where the new format for this season gets frustrating because it’s a crap shoot which acts will compete against each other every week.

If next week features a subpar lineup, then it’ll suck to imagine two of those acts advancing when we’re losing two of the best acts of the season this week. Of course, only one can win in the end, so disappointment is baked right into the format.

“America’s Got Talent” airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.


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