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‘America’s Got Talent’: I Think To Myself, What A Wonderful World. Now, Send In The Clowns
July 6, 2015  | By Alex Strachan
 

Talent comes in different shapes and sizes. And guises.

That’s hardly news, of course, but it explains a lot about how, even after 10 seasons, America’s Got Talent, TV’s wildest, wackiest talent show is still doing boffo biz in the summer ratings.

Ratings don’t always equate with quality, of course. As a talent spotter, America’s Got Talent still has issues. It’s impossible to compare a talented urban dance crew with a one-armed ventriloquist, for example, let alone weigh the merits of a preternaturally talented Taylor Swift-wannabe with, say, an 11-year-old who really, really wants to be the next Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

America’s Got Talent has yet to produce a Carrie Underwood or a Jennifer Hudson, and it probably won’t — with or without the so-called Susan Boyle effect.

The better singers still gravitate toward The Voice, thanks in no small part to The Voice’s bigger, brighter spotlight and its wider exposure to a main stream, music-buying audience.

America’s Got Talent is different, though, as Howie Mandel (left) keeps reminding us. 

“I love that we are doing things on this show that couldn’t be done anywhere else,” Mandel told the audience in an AGT audition show the other week, perhaps forgetting that Cirque du Soleil has produced its fair share of powerlifting acrobats and gymnast contortionists.

“You’re insane,” Howard Stern — AGT’s most assertive judge — told a watermelon-busting headbanger that same night. “And we need insane on this show.”

In this case, “insane” meant smashing 45 watermelons in just 60 seconds with nothing more than one’s forehead, supposedly breaking a world record originally set in New Zealand. Oh, those wacky Kiwis.

Of course, smashing watermelons with one’s head might not fit everyone’s definition of talent, even if Oxford defines it as “natural aptitude or skill,” while Merriam-Webster counters with, “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”

The show’s called America’s Got Talent, in any event, not America Has Talent. It’s the idea that counts. Strict grammarians need not apply.

As hard as AGT can be to follow from week to week, it works surprisingly well as a summertime TV diversion. 

It can be hard to tell the contestants from one week to the next without a program. Literally. Just because an act is put through doesn’t mean you’ll see them on the show ever again. If three’s a crowd, 300 can be a hot mess.

Acts can be cut suddenly, without warning, en masse. It’s all part of a show that, by its very nature, is an accident waiting to happen. And yet it all seems to work out in the end.

Winners aren’t always winners, and losers don’t always, well, lose. 

Even a die-hard AGT viewer would be hard-pressed to name more than two or three past winners — I was going to nominate Jackie Evancho, until I suddenly remembered that the then 11-year-old singing sensation didn’t win. She finished second in her year, runner-up to the unprepossessing singer-songwriter Michael Grimm.

Grimm is no longer on the music-industry radar; Evancho, now 15, has released five albums, one platinum and one gold, and has three Billboard 200 Top 10 debuts to her name, as tabulated by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

It’s the show that counts, in other words, not necessarily who wins at the end.

It’s easy to see why, as TV, AGT goes down as well as a glass of cool lemonade on a hot summer’s day. It has an undeniably cheerful vibe. Humiliation is kept to a minimum, where it appears at all. 

AGT improved immeasurably with the departure of career sourpuss Piers Morgan; Stern (left), on the other hand, has his finger on the pulse of middlebrow mid-American culture, but he’s not so full of himself that he has to embarrass and berate contestants to show how wonderful he is.

“I have to be fair to the other contestants when I tell you you’re not ready,” he told one contestant in a recent show.

He can swing the other way, too, without overdoing it.

“I have no qualms about telling young kids no,” he told another, luckier contestant, that same night. “But you spared me from that.”

Based on early evidence, AGT’s 10th anniversary season is shaping up to be, if not a banner year exactly — the jury’s still out on that  — one of its more spirited and engaging seasons.

It’s still hard to find a basis on which to compare a promising, 26-year-old soul diva with a dude who smashes watermelons with his head, but it’s all part of the process.

“I don’t know that we have any talent,” the self-appointed spokesman of a devil-may-care daredevil team told the judges, last week. “What we do is a combination of really dangerous and really dumb.”

Sadly, honesty is not always the best policy on America’s Got Talent: They didn’t make it.

The show must go on, though, and go on it will. Pass the nachos.

 
 
 
 
 
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