Tonight's first live show in New York begins with a half-hour countdown full of outtakes, bloopers and behind-the-scenes clips of the judges.
"My God, it's huge!" Sharon says. "It's got a face!"
"I gotta get a second opinion," Howie says, distressed. "I'm gonna talk to the judges from 'The Voice.'"
Soon, it's time for the performances. Twelve finalists will perform today; at the end of the night, home audiences can vote for their favorites. As if the pressure isn't high enough with the live show, only four of the contestants tonight will make it through to the next round.
The Distinguished Men of Brass are up first. They're a marching band act, but they're more fun and entertaining than any marching band I've ever seen.
I want nothing more than to jump up and dance with the lucky audience members that were allowed onstage. The Men of Brass make it through the performance without a judge hitting their "X."
"You have to take it beyond a marching band, beyond a half-time show," Howie says. "I see potential and I hope America sees potential."
Next is Edon, the 14-year-old singer/pianist that Sharon compared to Billy Joel during Vegas week. Tonight, he's singing 'Titanium' by David Guetta. He sounds great, but during the chorus the music is so loud, it's hard to really hear his voice.
"Amazing song choice," Sharon says. "You hit every single note."
Howard begins his judging by suggesting a law to ban fog machines in all rock shows. Then he moves on to Edon and says, "You nailed every single note. What I love about you is, you're not a showbiz kid. You're just humble and nice."
Magicians Jarrett and Raja are next. It's revealed that they've been trying for 10 years to get a show in Las Vegas but to no success because venues didn't understand the appeal of having a magician and a pianist.
"Well you heard the crowd, they turned on you," says Howard. He thinks they'll be safe this week though.
As usual, Howie thinks the act was fantastic and reckons the trick looked more impressive for audiences watching at home, because they only see one angle.
One of the youngest dancers 'America's Got Talent' has seen is next: 6-year-old Lil Starr from California. Tonight she dances to LMFAO and even rocks some harem pants and neon personality glasses.
"You gotta change your name," Howie says . "It's not lil, it's big star. I think you're the next Shirley Temple."
"I have to be very very honest about it ... dance category this year is one of the toughest," Howard says. "[Your act is] brilliant for a 6-year-old but I don't think it is an act that can win."
When ventriloquist Todd Oliver auditioned in St. Louis, he used one dog with a mouthpiece as his puppet. Tonight he has two. I liked Todd's act in St. Louis but I like it even more tonight because he seems to have perfected the fake mouths -- it really does look like the dogs are talking. The audience and judges, however, don't react very strongly to his jokes.
"The only weak point you had is some of the material," Sharon says.
"Maybe the dogs have to become a little stronger," says Howard, who advises Todd to make the jokes more topical. "Who's a dog's number one enemy? Mitt Romney, he tied a dog to the roof of a car!"
Up next is American BMX Stunt Team. They almost didn't make it to New York because of a mistake in Las Vegas.
"I know how dangerous this stage is, believe me. What you guys have done in this confined space, I bow down to you," says Sharon.
Howie is also a fan of the smaller-scale stage act because it makes the whole act more dangerous. "You deserve to go on," he says.
Nikki Jensen from Australia, the only solo female singer left in the competition, is next, singing "The Scientist" by Coldplay. As with Edon's performance, the music is too loud, so it's difficult for home audiences to hear Nikki's voice. What I can hear, however, sounds pretty good. Nikki herself looks dull and boring on stage.
"I think you did a nice job, [but] I don't think you did anything to be memorable," Howard says.
Next, The Scott Brothers perform again. I really liked these guys in their previous auditions, and tonight they are even better. The audience agrees with me -- they cheer throughout the entire act and give the brothers a standing ovation at the end.
"There are people in this contest that are quicker than you, more athletic than you, but you are original," Sharon says. "I sincerely hope you're in the four that go through."
Michael Nejad surprised everyone during his first audition when he played a broom and dustpan as instruments. In an interview before Michael's performance tonight, Howard says he thinks we have a better chance of seeing Jesus Christ than seeing Michael win the competition. Ouch.
Howard was right to predict that, however. The crowd boos Michael almost as soon as he begins to play a baseball bat like a clarinet and all three judges buzz him out by the end of the performance.
"If you play a baseball bat as an instrument, it's still gotta sound like a good instrument," Howard says. "It was annoying and horrible."
787 Crew from Puerto Rico takes the stage next. They made a big mistake in Las Vegas and Sharon says, "We give second chances. But not a third."
During their performance, it's clear they are good dancers, but they're not entirely in sync. I've definitely seen better.
"You didn't step it up," says Howie when they finish.
"I think you're in trouble tonight, boys," Howard says. "You do a lot of similar things each time I see you."
I've been looking forward to the next act: Shanice and Maurice Hayes, street performers. Before they sing, the judges have a little argument amongst themselves about whether or not the father, Maurice, brings down the act.
Tonight they sing 'There You'll Be' by Faith Hill to a standing ovation.
"I was skeptical of you, sir," Howie says to Maurice. "Tonight, no, you did not hold [Shanice] back. I think I agree with Sharon, I think you're gonna go far."
The last act of the night is art painters/dancers David Garibaldi and his CMYKs. I thought I liked these guys before. Tonight I LOVE them. The dancing is more exciting and the reveal is amazing.
David paints and dances at the same time; during the performance his painting doesn't really make sense, but then at the end, he spins it around and we see it's a face. The performance gets the audience and all three judges on their feet.
"If I was a woman, I would marry you, sir," Howard says to David.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun