The seventh season of NBC's proclaimed "biggest talent show on earth" began with some pretty impressive but puzzling shots of Nick Cannon yelling atop a desert mesa, then watching a random man get shot out of a cannon. There's an opportunity for a pun, but we won't go there.
Then cue the news and talk show clips announcing Howard Stern as the new judge, and some comments from fellow judges Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandell (Howard and Howie … this could get confusing) about how Stern is the best person to fill David Hasselhoff's empty judge's chair. It's clear the producers are making this season -- or at least this episode -- all about Stern.
Upon taking his new judge's chair, Howard makes a wisecrack about how the NBC execs that hired must be out of their minds. "They should be fired immediately," he said. Then the auditions begin.
The long line of talents (and schlubs) begins in L.A. with a magician named Jackson. Howard is excited because apparently, he is a "huge fan of magic." Right off the bat, Jackson calls Nick Cannon onstage and asks for his wedding ring. "It doesn't come off," Cannon says. Guess Mariah wouldn't be too pleased if her hubby's ring disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Jackson asks Howie for his ring instead. Howie gives it to him. Jackson does some wacky hand movements and claims he made the ring disappear, but we all know it's just in his other hand. Howard hits his buzzer and even walks over to Howie's buzzer to hit that one too.
Jackson is clearly a total failure -- wait! He just stepped behind a poster with a picture of himself on it. Seconds later, he emerges wearing a stripper-policeman getup. He rips off the uniform save for a tiny pair of gold shorts, and lo and behold, Howie's ring is on Jackson's nipple. Anyone who knows anything about the former "Deal or No Deal" host knows that he does not want that ring back.
The judges and audience are baffled by Jackson's performance in the worst sense. "Are you a stripper or magician?" they ask. "Stripper-magician," says Jackson. The judges give Jackson three no's, of course, and Howard makes his first small penis joke on the show.
Up next is Miss Less, "The Bird Lady," who claims that she feeds her multiple birds by mouth -- you read that right -- and calls them her children and grandchildren. At this point, I'm sure she's going to do some bird-kissing or melodic cooing as her act, but she actually sings a decent song with no help from her children. The judges like her sweet voice, but can't get past all the birds on her shoulders. It's three no's.
Next we're introduced to 42-year-old William Close, who we see setting up a gigantic harp contraption pre-show. The harp's several strings span the entire width of the auditorium, from one balcony to another. Close puts on some gloves, sets his hands on the strings and wow. Something strange and beautiful is happening and all I know is that I don't want it to stop. This guy is freaking amazing. He gets the first standing ovation this season and is the first to move on to the next round in Las Vegas.
Up next is Elements Dance Crew, a group of girls who modernize clog dances. Sound silly? Think again. The crowd goes wild for them; by the end of Elements' ridiculously cool and entertaining dance, the audience is chanting the group's name. Three yeses, all the way.
More L.A. performers moving on to Las Vegas: An adorable father-daughter duo, some BMX stunts people, a young aerial silk gymnast, a freestyle rapper who looks more like an IT Consultant, a group of gymnasts and a hip hop dance crew.
St. Louis auditions
Ben Black, a crossbowman who looks like he's wearing some of Katniss Everdeen's training clothes from "The Hunger Games," kicks off the St. Louis auditions with some sharp shooting. He even manages to shoot a single sheet of newspaper -- the thin way. That's right. Imagine a sheet of newspaper turned 90 degrees away from you so that you only have about one millimeter's worth of surface area to shoot. Howard can't say enough nice things about Black and his sexy assistant. Three yeses for Mr. Katniss.
Next, Nick Cannon tells the audience not to be alarmed because they're going to kill off all the lights in auditorium. The next thing I know, neon-outlined dinosaurs are roaming and flying around the stage and it's all kinds of awesome. The performance prompts Howard to call America the greatest country on earth. The light performance group moves on, of course.
In a truly horrific display, a stay-at-home dad dressed as a pirate sticks some needles in his face. I don't know what else happened because I just had to look away. "I actually want to thank you because you remind about why I don't like people," Howard says to the pirate dad.
Next on the line-up, a mediocre dancer named Reggie gets three no's for dancing to one of Nick Cannon's songs. Nick is appalled, so he joins Reggie onstage and the audience gets a free little Nick Cannon concert, complete with singing and dancing. Lucky crowd.
More St. Louis performers going to Vegas: A man who puts a venomous scorpion into his mouth, a ventriloquist who uses his actual dog instead of a puppet, and two more dance crews.
Biggest tearjerker moments of the show: After their performance, several members of Loyalty Dance Crew, which was formed from a band of misfits, broke down when the judges put them through. Also, father-daughter street musicians Maurice and Shanice Hayes made Nick, Sharon and several audience members tear up with their rendition of "You've Got a Friend."
Most shocking moment: A man named Simply Sergio sang a creepy, hip-gyrating version of "The Girl from Ipanema." He got rejected by Howard and Sharon immediately ("That was dreadful, of course," said Howard), but Howie wanted to see more. So Sergio got to sing "God Bless America" and … wow. What a transformation. Simply Sergio simply has pipes. After crying and saying how much he loves America, the judges put him through.