On July 2, "America's Got Talent" moved from the preliminaries to the live shows, indicating that the game really has changed. The first live Quarterfinal Round in New York City also showed that Howard Stern is willing to be even more constructively critical than the other judges.
Two musical favorites open the show.
Coming out of the auditions, the Distinguished Men of Brass showed the chops to take it all the way to the top. "They take marching band and make it exciting. I'd like to see an act like that win. And they are that good," Stern said in pre-show remarks.
Some technical glitches, however, took away from their live performance.
"Sometimes, on TV, the big band sound gets muddled," Stern said. "Sometimes those trumpets and brass get a tinny kind of sound. I don't know what you do to correct that."
Osbourne countered Stern, saying she is just judging the group on what she saw that night: "And tonight, let me tell you, you got it going on. I love you guys. You make me smile."
Edon, the charismatic 14-year-old singer and pianist, came to the New York stage showing that he has continued to work on his act after Vegas Week. Stern had been somewhat critical of him, saying he tends to get a big high, sounding like a cat meowing.
For Edon, practice made perfect. "What I love about you is that you are not a show-biz kid," Stern enthused.
Magical acts that lost some sparkle.
In his first year as a judge, Stern shows a willingness to put personal feelings aside to help an act. He would like to see someone in the Top 5 who is a magician.
Jarrett & Raja, an act that blends musical performance with magic, lost some of its glitter on the way to New York City. Technical glitches led to booing, especially when legs were visible under "floating" blankets.
"It got rather cheesy when you started to sing 'Singing in the Rain,'" Osbourne said.
Lil Starr, the 6-year-old dancer, had the judges divided. Stern said her act feels kind of dance recital-ish. The radio host and Osbourne clashed over the merits of the young dancer.
"The dance category this year is the toughest. I think there are some dancers here that could go all the way to the top. I don't think you're up to it. Every time I have seen you, it's the exact same act," Stern criticized.
Ventriloquist Todd Oliver brought dogs Irving and Lucy to the New York stage. Oliver had great stage presence, but the judges wanted a bit more.
"I think you have to work on some of the material, but where else can you see a talking dog?" Osbourne asked.
Stepping up and stepping out
Coming off a dangerous fall in Las Vegas, the American BMX Stunt Team nailed their East Coast debut. "This is not my kind of act. You are still holding my attention," Stern said.
The radio jock was not as enthused about Nikki Jensen, who abandoned her guitar for New York.
"Tonight, I think you did a nice job, but it was not memorable," Stern said.
The Scott Brothers definitely stepped up their game using mirror-like dance moves that definitely hold an audience's attention.
Michael Nejad, the inventor who turns household items into musical instruments, earned three X's from the judges.
"Sometimes a shovel is so you can dig your own grave, and that's what you did," Stern said. If you play a baseball bat, it has to sound good.
Howie Mandel chimed in, saying that Nejad's musical vacuum cleaner sucked. "If you were doing a concert at Home Depot, this would be fantastic," he said.
The 787 Crew from Puerto Rico put their financial futures on the line to come to the auditions. Although they were a feel-good act coming to New York City, Stern thinks they are in trouble with the voters at home. Osbourne sees potential in the group, saying that they have it in them to step it up.
Shanice and Maurice step it up for NYC.
In Las Vegas, there were some concerns that Maurice Hayes was holding his daughter Shanice back in their duets. In New York City, however, the father and daughter made beautiful music. Stern advised, though, for Maurice to remember Sonny and Cher.
"Don't be afraid to step back and let her shine," Stern advised.