'America's Got Talent' semifinals round 1 recap: William Close, Tom Cotter emerge as front-runners

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In "America's Got Talent," there are no free passes, especially during Season 7. Heading into the first round of semifinals, the judges turned up the heat, especially since only three acts will be advancing to the finals this week.

Five top acts compete for three slots

As Howard Stern, Sharon Osbourne, and Howie Mandel pointed out throughout the evening, this semifinal round was filled with talent and super-talent. By the end of the show, five acts stood out from the pack:
  • Wild card winner Todd Oliver and Irving had less than a week to get ready for the semifinals, but the ventriloquist was still topical and funny. Using a talk show set, Oliver interviewed his dog, Irving. ("What's the worst thing about being famous?" "Angelina and Brad keep trying to adopt me.")

  • Eric Dittelman brought Stern to the stage to help with a bit of artwork and mind-reading. "I connect with Dittelman, and I can guarantee that no one sitting at home is fast-forwarding through Dittelman," the radio host said in prerecorded remarks.
  • William Close and the Earth Harp Collective is the act most likely to go to the finals. Incorporating ballet and new instruments that he created, Close actually played his fianc√©, Sarah, who was decked out in a wearable instrument. "What we are seeing now is growth. You are a formidable foe to everyone in this contest," Stern enthused.
  • Comedian Tom Cotter also will be hard to beat in the audience voting. Cotter asked Mandel to select a topic and launched into a rapid-fire, well-polished routine about college. "I can't say anything but OMG," Mandel said.
  • The feel-good act of the season, contortionist/dancer Turf came prepared for the semifinals, earning praise from Howie Mandel. "To me, you are the best dancer in this competition. You take the stage, you are one guy. I sense you want this more than anybody," he said.
Former favorites falling out of favor

Fame definitely is fleeting, especially on "America's Got Talent." This season, it's not enough to go big because an act has to be fresh and innovative, as well.

  • A confident Andrew De Leon redeemed himself in the wild card round after failing in Las Vegas. This week, Howie Mandel, the judge who made the opera singer one of his picks, expressed some doubts. "My concern, as I said in the package, is that you don't have the formal training. And in this technique of singing, formal training is much more important than pop music," Mandel explained.
  • Sand painter Joe Castillo wowed the audience once again with his sand paintings, but Stern was looking for more. "It's a tougher evaluation because only three acts can go through. The audience may feel that they have seen this before. I am concerned there is a similarity to what you do," the radio host explained.
    • Academy of Villains, a stand-out during the YouTube competition, weathered the loss of a dancer during rehearsal. Osbourne was impressed with the choreography, but "America's Judge" was not as enthused. "I don't think you did enough to go through," he said.
    • The Scott Brothers stepped things up a bit and Stern, an admitted fan of the act, said it started to feel a little similar. "I think we've seen the best of what you guys do, and you do it great. But I think this time, people are going to get fatigued halfway through that 90 seconds," he said.

    Acts that could trump the front-runners

    • Edon, the 14-year-old singer, divided Mandel and Stern. "When you think of the whole competition, in my book, you are the best singer," Mandel enthused.
    • In pre-show remarks, Sharon Osbourne said that Bria Kelly, a YouTube winner, has that little touch of magic, but song choice was imperative for her. Kelly gave it her all on a cover version of Pink's "Perfect." "I loved the song choice. That song is so great; it has so much emotion in it. I just wish I had seen more of that from you," she said.
    • Donovan & Rebecca demonstrated their strength and grace once again. "On TV, it doesn't translate so well. You watch it on TV and sometimes you guys get lost on that stage," Stern cautioned.

    Tonight, 8/29, of "America's Got Talent" will reveal the three acts moving on to the finals.

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