AGT 5th Judge: School Shooting Survivor's Powerful Song Earns Standing Ovation

The last full night of auditions on “America’s Got Talent” ahead of a few stragglers next week and the judges’ deliberating who actually gets to move on after handing out all these Yeses.

The night brought several powerful moments, but none more than the high school senior from Oxford, Michigan who survived the 2021 school shooting there. Her performance of Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” was haunted by the trauma she had to live through, and the ongoing epidemic of mass shootings in this country. It was a poignant and powerful moment.

It was also a night for confidence, as one contestant came out as Zelda from the popular Nintendo franchise, ocarina in tow, and surprised the judges who were certainly pre-judging her for simply being herself and expressing her art in the way that felt right to her.

Beyond a night of incredible vocalists, including a beautifully unexpected take on an ABBA classic, the night featured some stunning aerial work, an incredible pair of dancing best friends and a comedian who left Simon stumped, even as he was spelling out his entire act with charts and graphs and all the information you could ever want.

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 they fare as the season progresses.

(performance artist) You know, if you stop putting him on television, he’ll stop showing up year after year and always finding a way to expose himself in front of a live audience. Why does this keep happening?

Results: X, X, X, X

[[see Jessica Fisenfeld below for video]]

(acrobats) Shown in just glimpses before a featured audition, this one really didn’t impress us. We’ve seen these trampoline wall acts before and every clip we saw of this looked derivative of those. Either we missed all the mind-blowing stunts they were doing, or there just weren’t any to leave us breathless at all. Still, something was there because they advanced.

Results: [[Yes]]

(dancer) Tap dancers never seem to do well on these reality competition shows, including dance shows. There’s just not enough spectacle in what they do — especially solo — to keep audiences rooted to their seats and invested. Honestly, despite a plethora of energy, Bayley wasn’t really doing it for us. We saw a lot of tapwork that was intricate and fast, but there was something off-putting about him talking through it and doing a lot of the same moves in repetition. In the end, it just wasn’t as impressive for us as it was for the audience and, apparently, the panel.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(singer/aerialist) An interesting combination, we got only the shortest glimpse of Jessica singing opera while working the ring as an aerialist. What we saw, though, was pretty impressive. The breath control alone to be able to do both of those things at the same time is astonishing. If we see her again, hopefully she won’t get short-changed like this, as we didn’t see nearly as much impressive acrobatics as we heard very nice singing.

Results: [[Yes]]

(comedian) An act short-changed in the edit, we basically got one complete joke from her, but felt she delivered it pretty well and she created a very strong visual. Simon thought she was robotic, but everyone else on the panel enjoyed her. We’d have definitely liked a little more to truly assess her act.

Results: Y, Y, Y, [[Probably No]]

(musician) F.Z. brought along an ocarina, so “Legend of Zelda” fans knew exactly what she was about from the moment she said her name. The entire panel clearly thought this whole thing was very weird and were dismissive of her from the start. She quickly won over the crowd though, painting the colors of the wind with beautiful playing of the ocarina and a surprisingly rich and textured voice. The voice was almost a shocker coming from such an intricate and believable cosplay, but it only adds to her character and conviction. The response was clearly more than she expected, as she got extremely emotional afterward. She was not expecting the acceptance and it was beautiful to see.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(comedian) We didn’t get her full act, instead only getting a few moments with Kim. We thought she was going to go into the stereotypical Asian mom jokes, but she had a great twist on it that was refreshing. Her delivery was also incredibly confident in the moments with her we did get to enjoy.

Results: Y, Y, Y, [[Probably No]]

(acrobats) There’s a lot of room to go up with this act. We did get to see some fun see-saw acrobatics, and a few jumps through a hoop. It was all building to the catapult through a fire-coated hoop with blindfolds on, but that was one guy and one stunt. With a lot of moving parts, and removing shirts, they quickly won the favor of the audience and showed a lot of potential in what they do. It wasn’t a jaw-dropping debut, but enough we’d want to see how they might up the ante next time.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(danger act) A sword swallowing act that really pushes the envelope of what you can do with this type of performance. He has a fun energy on stage and clearly enjoys the cringe factor of what he does. When he was wacking a pipe further down his throat, you knew this was taking this type of act to a more dangerous level, which you want to see. Later, Howie got involved in the act, shoving a sword down his throat and pulling it back out. It’s okay, but it does get repetitive. We did appreciate the addition of Howie to add some danger and his promise to break a world record if he comes back.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(comedian) A self-proclaimed “nerd” with VENN diagrams and charts and graphs to prove it, Don was a comedian unlike anything we’ve seen before. He mined some great humor from his charts and his energetic presentation. No every chart landed strong (like the popcorn one), but then he’d redeem it with things like his locker room diagram. It’s such a unique presentation technique, like a boardroom presentation with humor, we found ourselves getting more and more on board with his unique approach and cadence. In the end, he won us over.

Results: Y, Y, Y, N

(singer) Hailing from Oxford High School, Ava was a survivor of the November 2021 shooting that took the lives of four students. “AGT” also put up a disclaimer sending their hearts out to all survivors of recent school shootings, which are sadly becoming commonplace in America. Her performance wasn’t note perfect, but it’s worth noting that the audience did not erupt in wild applause with her first big note. Instead, they were enraptured by the emotional connect and the authenticity of her performance. This was a moment that meant something and no one wanted to spoil it — well, until they finally did. Still, Ava was incredibly poised and powerful in this big moment, giving us the first tear-jerker moment of the night. We were happy to receive it.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(aerialists) Dual ribbon aerial acts are a dime a dozen, but this one we were promised had a different approach, and it did. It was almost combative, with a lot of push and pull between the two. That in itself made it novel and memorable. But the stunts themselves were also very polished, with an incredibly dangerous final drop that had everyone holding their breaths. The vision and creativity is what puts the act to the next level for this kind of thing, and that’s how you stand out on a show that’s seen this concept countless times. This was a great showcase.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(singer) Sounding unlike anyone else in the competition with a very interesting, stripped down interpretation of “Dancing Queen,” Debbii’s vocals were front and center throughout this performance. Her eyes were glued to her fingering through the first half of the song, which could have been nerves over anything else, but she finally started to engage with the audience a bit as it went along. Remarkably, even in her nerves and looking at her fingers, her voice never betrayed any of it. It was a transcendent vocal that invited us into its intimacy in a way that felt very warm.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(magician) In an era where a lot of magicians are slick and cool and many don’t even speak. Maxence was a breath of fresh air with his wide-eyed enthusiasm and humorous presentation. Even when it seemed his trick was going wrong — and of course, he was in control the whole time — he kept us riveted and smiling as he ran around setting up each different piece of his intricate set. With charm to spare, Maxence is a magician we could easily see hold an audience in the palm of his hand throughout a full show.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

(dancers) A pair of best friends dancing with the kind of trust and chemistry that only comes from a long time together delivered a beautifully joyous piece that felt like it was about their very friendship. This was a beautiful showcase of dance technique, incredible side-by-side work and strong partnering. They’re clearly both very talented and very diligent in their practice and study. But as strong as they each are as dancers, it’s this partnership that really brings the magic. And hey Simon, we saw the story of the dance from the beginning. It’s about them starring them.

Results: N, Y, Y, Y

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

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