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It’s my kind of town, Chicago, but has it got what it takes to win a million? This week, AMERICA’S GOT TALENT is on a quest for the best of the Midwest. Find out whether the Windy City is full of hot air or proves to be a breath of fresh air for our beleaguered judges, in this last week before we, the viewing audience, get to vote for our favorites in the semi-finals.

Showtime for Shy-Town

I’ve learned some things after watching AGT for only three weeks: no matter where you go in this country, people share far more similarities than they do differences. People with “talent” have a propensity for wearing spandex, sequins, and body glitter. Stage moms are scary. Baton twirlers are always in the audition room, yet somehow never make it onto the show (thus indicating that they place even lower in the AGT hierarchy than men dressed as cows with spurting udders, balloon acts, and delusional middle-aged men who sing horribly off-key—that’s got to be an ego killer). And from the East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between, there is no dearth of jugglers. I mean, there are HELLA jugglers in this country. Why did my vocational guidance counselor back in school not mention this as a career option?

Regis Philbin returns to the stage in a nice sharkskin suit, looking a bit more appropriately dressed, almost as if he heard me carping about his sloppy attire last week. He says, “I’m putting my neck on the line” to prove AMERICA’S GOT TALENT—well, no, only your career, Reeg. Only your career…careercareer…[ominous echo continues]. Speaking of people with careers at stake, back are judges David Hasselhoff (who thankfully survived his freak shaving/chandelier/gym accident—sounds like a cover-up story to me), Brandy (accompanied by her GIGANIMOUS wooden party plate earrings), and Piers Morgan (who people now feel comfortable enough to boo upon introduction).

Also back are the XXX buzzers that can seal the fate of our performers in one fell swoop; lest we forget the folks who are really putting their careers on the line are the “Talents” themselves. The Chicago auditions drew people from all over: Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, and even the Great Beyond (judging from the number of Elvis impersonators present). There’s the usual cavalcade of the mentally unstable, people donning brightly colored wigs, and the Mentally Unstable in Brightly Colored Wigs Brigade. Regis calls down the first group of performers.

Jigglers, Jugglers, and Rockin’ Brothers

The Matadors – To say that the men in this dance group that performs at Chicago Bulls Games are large does not quite capture the, er, fullness of their grandeur. Imagine ten Jorge Garcias (Hurley from “Lost”) in red Bulls’ jerseys and Tobias Fünke-esque denim cut-offs (save for the one brave lad in crop top and kilt) doing a perfectly synchronized dance routine to MC Hammer, and maybe you’ll have an idea. “U Can’t Touch This,” croons the Hammer, and ultimately, you really wouldn’t want to. One of the Matadors might accidentally eat your arm if you stuck it in the fray. Piers and Brandy X them first, but the Hoff just sits there with a delighted grin that says he just might be a chubby chaser. Still, the Hoff says no, Piers says no, and Brandy leaves the guys to do the dirty work yet again so she can simply say, “Sorry, guys,” you’re not moving on. We’re on to your tricks now, Brandy. As they leave the stage, the Matadors variously say, “I’m hungry,” and “Where’s the food at?” suggesting that if one of them were to bite your arm, it might not actually be all that accidental after all.

The Passing Zone – John and Owen might look like two guys who work at Circuit City, but in actuality they are—you guessed it—a juggling act. What sets them apart from other jugglers? Well, there’s two of them, they throw balling balls at their faces (not real ones, alas—but wait for it, there’s another guy who does later in the show), and they’ve spiced up standard juggling tricks (balancing on a rolling board, juggling flaming torches) by adding some comic banter and homoerotic undertones. Somehow, it all works to make for a crowd-pleasing act. Brandy loved it and didn’t want it to end. Piers thinks they have potential, but asks, “What’s with the clothes?” indicating displeasure with the two guys’ drab Sears Professional Wear look—Good comeback though, when one of the guys says with perfect comic timing, “We thought that [the act] would be much better with clothes.” The Hoff doesn’t like them and wants to bid them “Hoff Wiedersehen,” however, Piers wants to give them another chance provided they come back “dressed like performers” and the Hoff is outvoted…Passing Zone passes through to round two.

The Millers – These two young brothers rock the socks off the crowd with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama” that brings people to their (now socklessly rocked) feet. The younger brother (who resembles Bobby Hill) gives Husky Boys everywhere something to be proud of by being the single most bad ass harmonica player I have ever seen in my life. I’m not the only one: Piers says the bad news is Miller the Younger cannot sing, however, he is the best harmonica player Piers has ever seen. Piers wants the kid to promise never to sing again. Will he keep that promise? We’ll be able to see next round, as the Millers are unanimously voted through.

Archery, Awesomeness, and the World’s Most Dangerous Comic

Lilia Stepanova – This comely contortionist in fishnet and peekaboo pants takes the art of contortion to a whole new level. As if it weren’t impressive enough to be a bendy babe, Lilia is also a master archer who can hit a bull’s eye with one foot behind her head. Not impressed? Well how about watching her hit her mark balanced upside down and using her frickin’ feet to do it? Piers is smiling as if lovely Lilia had shot her arrow straight through his heart, and confesses he’d “definitely like to see more” of her. I’ll bet [nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more]. All the judges agree; Lilia will be back.

Shawn Crump – This singer, donning a shiny powder blue shirt and a moustache I’d like to call “The Ned Flanders Special,” describes himself as “awesome.” Well, he got the first syllable correct; however, I think AW-ful is perhaps more appropriate. His warbling rendition of “Suspicious Minds” gets my award for AGT Delusional Middle-Aged Crappy Singin’ Dude of the Week. He blessedly will not be moving on.

Mark “The Knife” Faje – The self-proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous Comic” is 90% danger and only 1% comedy (the remainder is pure chutzpah). Despite not being particularly funny, the act is definitely thrilling. It consists of catching a real bowling ball (he breaks a plate with it to prove it) on the side of his head. Oh, by the bys, did I mention the bowling ball had steak knives stuck in it? And is on fire? And that he puts a live, poisonous, Black Emperor scorpion in his mouth, then down his pants for the bowling ball stunt? (You think that’s dangerous for Mark? I feel bad for the scorpion!) Mark pulls the trick off without a hitch, or a call from PETA. He says he’s performed in over 17 countries, and if we have him back, we’ll see another trick that’s gotten him banned in England, Ireland, and Scotland. The judges all enthusiastically vote him through, because they’re dying to see what that is. I’ll admit, I am too. I just hope he cleans the scorpion between, you know, sessions.

Bird Calls, Yodeling and Balloons

Sharon Kasane – Mental illness is sad. So why does reality TV always insist on having a laugh at the expense of the non compos mentis? This frumpily dressed older lady in a big, ridiculous hat that alone screams “I’m Cuh-RAY-ZAY!!!” says she talks “with birds every single day.” Sadly, from the looks of her, she probably has no one else with whom to converse. Her bird calling skills do not impress the judges, mostly because…there are no birds in the studio. She just pretends there are. Even sweet little Brandy is driven to say, “Sharon, Sharon, Sharon…What the hell was that?” Even the Hoff takes a shot, remarking that Sharon should be on medication; and Piers says that the only bird she called to mind here today was “the cuckoo.” XXXed out.

Taylor Ware – I never thought of myself as a big fan of yodeling, but if there’s one person who could change my mind it’s adorable—and I mean pinch-her-cheeks and tug-her-pigtails adorable—11 year old Taylor Ware, who taught herself to yodel from an instruction book and tape. The judges seem skeptical, but when Taylor starts performing, she effortlessly yodels, doing vocal acrobatics that aren’t just technically difficult but pleasant to hear. And what’s more, she’s a marvelous singer to boot. And did I mention, adorable? Like a yodeling Dorothy from Wizard of Oz. She gets a standing ovation from the audience, and the awe-struck judges handily pass her through. Even resident curmudgeon Piers says it was the most unique but entertaining thing he’d ever seen, and he loved it.

Buster Balloon – Aside from educating me on the amount of jugglers in the world, AGT has also made me much more aware of how many balloon artists are out there. Buster is a big, round, bald guy who looks much like the big, pink balloon he attempts to climb into as part of his act. Alas, Buster busts his balloon the first time; luckily he has a spare, but it’s not enough to get him through. The judges burst his balloon by informing him he won’t be back for another round.

Flippy, Players Club, Laughing Yogi, and Quick Change Artists

Flippy the Magnificent – No relation to Leonid (who knew there were so many “Magnificent” people out there?), Flippy more closely resembles Tony Wonder, the greatest illusionist alive. But can Flippy bake himself into a loaf of bread? Flippy’s act consists of a passionate balletic dance, clad scantily in a loin cloth, with a partner that is a blow up doll…that looks exactly like himself (right down to the lovingly recreated facial and chest hair)! Hoff and Piers, obviously threatened by the sudden, inexplicable arousal this display must have ignited, X him out quickly. Brandy lays off, but Piers buzzes her X, and then almost angrily tells Flippy that he is a “ridiculous act” that has “wasted” their time. Flippy, alas, shall not return, and will never have the chance to prove his magnificence, and goes backstage to yell at his doll for stealing his wife then ruining the act. Am I the only person who enjoyed this performance? To me, it was like watching Martha Graham, only hairier…and more blow-uppier.

The Players Club – This group of six energetic step dancers is headed by Ed Nelson, who talks like he invented steppin’, although hellooo, it’s been around for decades! You’d have to live under a rock to have never heard of this. Piers Xes them out, perhaps because he lives under a rock, although he complains that the act “left [him] a bit cold”. The Hoff wants to see more, however, and Brandy defends the Players by pointing out how there is “an entire audience for this type of dance” which has been hot in college fraternities and sororities for a while now (well, that’s what she meant, I think, when she said, “alumnis [sic]…all the alpha and omega, they all do this stuff”). Brandy advises them to “get tighter…get it together” for when they come back for the next round. Ed says, “We tight, but this is new to them, so we understand.” Again, why is he talking like this is some crazy new phenomenon? Have you heard of this fabulous thing called “the wheel” that’s all the rage lately? Hey, can you believe, some people are starting to use steam for power!

The Laughing Yogi – Laughing Yogi has been practicing yoga for over 40 years, and has a mission to spread laughter in the world, like the Laughing Buddha, or the Laughing Cow (wait, no, that’s a cheese). His act is near incomprehensible, as it mainly consists of him yelling things and then bouncing around on the floor on his ass. What yoga is this? Ashtanga, Kundalini, or how about Cocaine-Fueled Rager?

Quick Change Artists – As a magician and his lovely assistant come out, you might be thinking, another lame magic act, right? Well, even jaded AGT audiences are dumbfounded at how these two people manage to change in and out of numerous, voluminous outfits multiple times in the blink of an eye. Behind a curtain, the woman goes from gigantic evening gown to feathery showgirl outfit. She walks through a box and instantaneously appears in another costume. She even changes hair color, and he goes from one tux to another in a single flash. You might think, oh, but these are obviously ripaway Hot Cop ensembles that you can leave behind the curtain and in the box, but oh-ho-ho…how do you explain the sheer sheet of fabric? Or the way she transforms completely behind a fringe curtain? Or finally appears in a full length, white evening gown after being doused with a bucket of glitter? From the way he complains on any night we go out, I bet my husband wishes I could change outfits that fast. Brandy asks how they did it, and the magician says they could tell her how they did it, “but then we’d have to make you disappear.” We’ll this act won’t be vanishing any time soon; the Quick Change Artists will be back for another round.

Three other acts from the Midwest made it through to the next round as well, although AGT didn’t have time to show them tonight. We’ll see them in the coming weeks, I’m sure, and don’t forget that from this point on, we’ll get the chance to vote for who we feel should win the big million dollar prize. Tune in to see how your favorites fare, and how far they’ll go to get there.

Not banned in any countries…yet! But I’m still working on it: snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com