AGT 5th Judge: Breaking Down Barriers, One Act Pens Perfect Sequel and Scores Group Golden Buzzer

Dolly Parton will surely hear about this week’s episode of “America’s Got Talent,” and one incredible act in particular.

Breaking down barriers in country music — which is just now starting to accept Black artists — this powerhouse trio not only bring authenticity and a lot of personality and style to the stage with their country roots, but they brought an amazing original song that picks up the narrative where Dolly left off and moves it in a very modern direction.

We expect Dolly will love it! And we expect it’s only a matter of time before she sees it and reacts.

Until then, we can enjoy the performance, which punctuated a night of strong performances and powerful stories of perseverance. One contestant’s father is fighting on the front lines in the Ukraine, while another group uses the power of dance to help them heal from personal trauma.

A young woman with a speech impediment soars unimpeded while singing a beautiful original song, while another man formed a stunningly talented a cappella group to get “revenge” on another group that kicked him for being “a bad singer.” Spoiler alert, this group was a real surprise and treat!

We had a dance troupe dressed like Howie Mandel, who came back from being sick halfway through the show (just in time for this), and a whip cracker who got to put Simon in the hot seat and crack a whip very near — well, you know. And this right after simon X’d him.

A beautifully lyrical magician, high-energy acrobats, a passionate choir, and one of the most unexpected and gifted singers we’ve ever seen on any show like this — it truly came out of nowhere — created a powerful night of great auditions. Save a few acts, It was just going from strength to strength.

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.

(performance artists) We only got a snippet of whatever this was supposed to be, but terrible dancing with skis on is still terrible dancing. In fact, it might have been more terrible.

Results: [[No]]

(performance artist) This gimmick has been done and a lot better on this show. One person in a costume playing the legs of one dancer with their legs and the legs of a second dancer with their arms. It can get quite creative and funny if performed right. This was performed all wrong and an absolute mess — even with the addition of roller skates.

Results: X, X, X, X

(flea circus) A tiny “flea circus” set up was just gimmicky moving items like a diving board and sound effects to make it look like a flea was performing the stunt. Hasn’t this act been around for generations? And it wasn’t that great when it was new. It’s still not that great.

Results: [No]

(musician) dropping a traffic cone into a bass saxophone apparently changes it’s sound, but it still sounded pretty saxy to us. Honestly, we’re not sure why Simon buzzed it. It’s kitschy, but he was fairly talented at playing. It would have been nice to see a comparison of the sound with and without.

Results: X, Y, Y

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(dancers) This group of trauma survivors “that use performance to reclaim relationships with their bodies and lives using the healing power of dance.” We didn’t get their full performance (and it’s frustratingly not on the “AGT” YouTube page considering its message), but there was something still so beautiful about these men and women working through their suffering with art. It’s such a powerful tool for healing and beautiful to watch in motion. And there was actual technique on display, if not consistently or to the caliber of professional dancers. They’re putting in the work and sharing their story and their joy, which is incredible.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(acrobats) They certainly know how to put on a show, though we’d have loved to see a little more than a lot of different ways to jump through hoops, both man-made and made-from-man. Still, there’s a lot of kinetic energy in a performance like this that is infectious. If they can up the danger and ante of some of the tricks, and make sure they don’t have so much going on that we feel like we’re missing some of it, that tightened act could be very exciting to watch.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(choir) There was something missing in this audition and we’re not quite sure what it was. It definitely wasn’t enthusiasm or energy; they had that by the gallons. The harmonies were sharp, if unremarkable, and even the solo work was only solid. Maybe that’s the problem. They were technically proficient and quite good at what they do, but it felt very workmanlike. We were watching skilled performers instead of passionate artists. Even the director and her young soloist felt somehow empty. Maybe this one is on us, but we’ve definitely seen choirs on this show that have moved us before, and that just didn’t happen with this one.

The preceding was written after their first song, so we didn’t even know Simon was feeling largely the same way. And so he pushed them to do something “a little unprepared.” Maybe it was too polished, sucking all the authenticity out of it? The second track again started with Moses, the soloist, before moving into genuine choir work and it was much stronger. The complexity of the harmonies was stronger and the overall performance was much more confident.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(performance artists) Absolute insanity. If the “Jackass” generation took over professional sports you would get this act. We had a ridiculous long jump by a big dude (who slammed into the last guy covering his genitals laying crossways like logs with his mates. Then we had a pillow fight with pepper spray, thumbtacks and a cattle prod. It was unorganized chaos and Simon Cowell loved every bit of it. The rest of the panel seemed put off by the absurdity and sheer nonsense of it all. But there was something very fun and likable about the craziness — you just had to go along for the ride.

Results: Y, Y, X, Y

(acrobats) Svitlana dedicated this performance to her father, fighting on the front lines in Ukraine. The performance itself was certainly elegant and lovely, though her final ascension by her foot was wobbly throughout. She has incredible strength with what she does, showcasing that power several times with her chandelier prop high above the stage. It’s not the most death-defying or exciting act like this we’ve seen, but it did have a lot of passion and power. If she can up the ante for herself and keep pushing the creativity with her vision, it’s enough to want more.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(singer) Like many people with speech impediments, Amanda is able to sing without a stutter or any hesitations. She delivered an original song that was more heart than incredibly written. It was very poet-singer-songwriter in content and with a very small vocal range through most of it. Then, in a few moments, she showed us that her voice has a few more tricks in there that the song wasn’t showcasing, which makes us curious what more she can do. We do love that her songwriting is her story, just as her art helps her fully express herself with more confidence. On top of that, she has a lovely, gentle quality to her voice.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(dancers) We kind of love that this troupe dressed up like Howie in an attempt to win him over because he notoriously doesn’t like dance teams like this. It also creates a very unique visual for dancing with all those bald heads and glasses. Clearly the kickline is what they’re all about, and they definitely do synchronized kicking and movements very well. We also got a kick out of them performing to fellow bald man Pitbull. The black suits weren’t great for allowing us to see their lines, but it was a fun and energetic piece. Enough to stand out and win a show like this? Not necessarily, but we can appreciate their extra effort to stand out.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(magician) A very different kind of act, Ho-Jin brought a lyrical quality to his appearing, disappearing and transforming feather. There was a sweet musicality to it that was fun to watch. The element of the picture frame added to the artistic approach he was taking. And while we could start to maybe see the edges of some of the illusions, it was still a very smooth production presented beautifully. He will have to dazzle a lot more to compete with some of the incredible magicians who have come through this show, but this was enough to get that chance. Simon wasn’t as impressed, and we can see where he was wanting more from this.

Results: Y, Y, Y, N

(whip performer) This must be the season of whip cracking. But at least with Jack he has a lot of charisma and personality on top of incredible whipping. In fact, his whip precision was on another level. Add that with his humor and banter and you’ve got an act that’s genuinely entertaining. He also did a bit of teaching so people would understand the artform a bit better and appreciate its complexities, and his incredible skill at it. We also kind of loved that Simon gut pulled up as a volunteer right after buzzing Jack at audience demand. Jack got close to the jewels, but nailed his final shot, too. We’re not sure how deep this act could go, but really enjoyed his presentation.

Results: X [rescinded] Y, Y, Y

(a cappella singers) Such a simple premise and yet we wanted so much more. This was a great a cappella audition, taking us through three classic sitcom introductions, including a nod to Sofia’s “Modern Family.” They managed instrumental intros like that one and “The Simpsons” and then brought it home with a very heartfelt and beautiful take on the “Cheers” theme. Even sticking with just sitcom (or TV) themes, they could go on forever. But if they move on from that, they’ve proven how rich of an auditory experience they can make with just their voices. They even did a bonus “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” performance for Terry backstage, which was fun.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(singers) As Black artists are starting to gain more acceptance in country music, we love how unabashedly and authentically country this trio of Black relatives (two sisters and a cousin) are. We also love that they are authentically from a town so small it’s named after their family. Everything about them screams authenticity down to the fact they wrote a sequel song to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and it is a country banger! These girls have great energy, a great sense of who they are stylistically and musically, and they are ready right now for their shot.

Results: [[Group Golden Buzzer]]

(singer) With elements of Michael McDonald and Joe Cocker, Sam has an incredible texture, complexity, depth and cry in his voice. It is raw emotion with a single note. On top of that, he’s so unassuming and humble, it’s shocking that this incredible voice came out of him. Like Cocker, Sam gets taken by the music to where his face and body starts to contort with the passion of what he’s doing. It’s a rare gift to find someone so deeply into their own talent, but this is a world we could visit over and over again.

Results: Y, Y, Y

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

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