In the 30’s and 40’s Major Bowes Amateur Hour was an extremely popular radio show. The mix of the talented and untalented has been entertaining audiences for a long time. America’s Got Talent is an all-variety talent competition on NBC, they have magicians, comedians, puppeteers, danger acts, dance acts, singers, jugglers, and geeks (Though I doubt they would actually air biting the head off a live chicken). Last year’s winner was a dog act. This year they have concentrated on talent, and originality, and not dwelling on humiliating the untalented, or at least that part is edited out. It also reminds me of the old live Ed Sullivan show, most famous for debuting the Beatles to the US audience, but also known for plate spinners and ventriloquists.
I started watching America’s Got Talent because I’m a fan of Howard Stern, but I stayed because I enjoyed seeing the variety acts and the “reality” behind the scenes with the participants. After the heavily edited audition shows, AGT is presented live. What hooks me the most is the human element, seeing the background, the home life and hard work that brings people there to show the world what they can do. The reward for the winner is a “Million Dollar Prize and a Las Vegas show contract”. But the fine print says that million dollars is doled out over 40 years. And who knows what the contract actually gets them. I’m sure the multi-million dollar salary for the judges is in a lump sum.
To accommodate Stern, the live shows have been brought to Radio City Music Hall, walking distance from his apartment. I remember seeing this iconic stage once before as a very young kid. It was likely the Christmas show. I hadn’t been there since. A free ticket to get inside the theater for the live AGT sounded interesting. They put you through an ordeal to get the ticket, but I did end up having fun.
After applying online you may get a ticket voucher, which allows you to stand in line along 50th Street beside the theater on the afternoon before the show for your tickets. Production assistants come along the line to mark your vouchers with a letter. Mine was marked with a D, which I suspect is my beauty rating. Later in line again for the evening show, I encountered a pretty young couple from Staten Island, who must have gotten an A, they had silver stickers on their tickets and were soon whisked away from we penned rabble to be given, I suspect, seats near the stage. I was joined by my friend Chris. Chris is a magician, he entertained the people in the line with amazing sleight of hand. We were seated in the first Mezzanine, and unlikely to offend a key AGT demographic, young teenage girls.
They let us into the theater around 7:30, the show starts at 9:00. Most of that time was taken up with training us to clap, cheer and to always give standing ovations when returning from commercials. We were also instructed to cheer for any mention of AGT, Radio City, NYC, New Jersey, Brooklyn etc. The warm up guy kept emphasizing that we were not just watching the show we were making the show. Standing after the commercials did afford a better view of the theater every time we stood, so I didn’t really mind. It give me insight into how staged every element of these shows is. Pre-show they also videoed phony reaction shots of us acting like we were cheering for inserts into the live show. I found it interesting that the signs held by people in the audience were provided by the show, and not homemade. During the live acts we were encouraged to react and stand or boo as we felt, yes genuine reactions, if much amplified. I didn’t mind it was mostly fun, being a TV puppet. All the acts at this stage have at least some genuine talent. I was happy to clap for them. And if people start to stand up around me I’ll get up if only to still be able to see the act. But several of the acts were genuinely entertaining, and I was happy to stand for them.
The battery on my camera crapped out, or I would have had some interesting photos of the pre-show preparation of the stage. I was amazed to see several stagehands down on their hands and knees polishing the floor with rags. I suspect this is part of some archaic theatrical system, maybe union rules regarding the number of stage hands needed. It looked like one guy on a polishing machine could have accomplished it quicker, even if it later needed hands-and-knees touch-ups. During the show you cannot use your camera, but watching the crew quickly set up for acts during the few minutes of commercial breaks is fascinating. I brought binoculars, so I was able to see a lot of the tech details. And binocs are the only way to clearly see faces and emotions from the mezzanine.
- Alexandr Magala – Sword Swallowing gymnast did an act that almost killed him. I was with my friend Chris, he is a fire performer and he spotted that Magala, blowing fire, sprayed lamp oil over the stage making it too slippery for him to safely do his backflips etc, especially while he had that short sword down his throat. But I didn’t really see how close he came to gouging his vital organs until I saw the replay on television. He did a flip with the sword down his throat (I’m convinced the sword is not retractable and is genuine, though the traditional audience examination of the sword was not done). After he did the flip his hands were covered in oil, and when he attempted another move on the upright rig, his hands slipped and he barely retained his balance. Even with a dull sword an uncontrolled fall could have been lethal. I suspect he is new to fire eating, and added it to take his act to a new level, and he almost killed himself. I’m glad he did not get voted through, though his earlier acts were dangerous, unprecedented, but they appeared to be under his control. Is there a 7 second delay on this live show, or longer?
- Marty Brown – emotional country singer choked up with emotion and didn’t sing well, but I’m glad he was voted through. His first performance was stellar, and I thought his back story as a total amateur dragged to the AGT audition by his wife was touching. But apparently he was a Billboard country star in the 90’s. He’s still an interesting character and I will be glad to see how his story spins out.
- Ciana Pelekai, a young Hawaiian singer has an amazing voice and presence, I would have liked to see her go through, but she didn’t make it.
- Tone the Chiefrocca looking to be a one-hit-wonder with their only song ″B-Double O-T-Y” did a spectacular performance with about 20 dancers, but they didn’t make it through. I can’t imagine that they could take their schtick to any higher level.
- Forte a three tenors group is talented and deserved to go through and they did.
- Angela Hoover an impressionist comedian didn’t make me laugh at all but she got through to the semi-finals.
- Innovative Force an acrobatic group of very young girls tossing each other up in the air looked more impressive on TV than they did live. They made it through as well.
Over all I enjoyed the experience, but I don’t think I’ll stand in those long lines again only to be stuck in the balcony again.