'AGT' judges can't believe they put 'cheesy' singer through to the live shows

America’s Got Talent Season 17 finally kicked off its live shows Tuesday, with a revamped format to accommodate the past 10 weeks of auditions. (Insert “It’s been 84 years!” Titanic meme here.)

And this new “supersized” format definitely came with extra cheese.

But first, let me explain how it’s all going to work this year. With the season’s whopping 138 contestants now whittled down to 55 (instead of the usual, more manageable 36) — including a fan-selected wildcard, comedian Jordan Conley — for the next five weeks AGT will air “qualifying rounds” featuring 11 hopefuls. Two contestants from each week will advance, after which a viewers’ instant vote will determine an 11th qualifier that’ll also move on. And then, on Sept. 13, those 11 finalists will compete for a $1 million prize and a Vegas residency.

OK. Got all that? Cool.

So, the first batch of 11 acts competed this week, and among them was zesty novelty singer Ben Lapidus, who’d somehow made it this far despite receiving four red X’s on the Season 17 premiere. On that historic night, three of the judges — Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, and Heidi Klum – were eventually, reluctantly convinced by the roaring live audience to change their X’s to yeses. “More Parmesan,” Ben’s spicy protest song against “Big Parma” and Italian bistro waiters that are too stingy when doling out Parmesan cheese, went on to become a viral hit.

But when Ben returned this week, his cheesy shtick got moldy real fast.

“Ben, you seem like a super-nice guy, but I don't understand how you made it here,” an exasperated Sofia flat-out told the singer. “How? How are you back here?”

As first, it actually seemed like Ben was about to mix it up Tuesday, assuring host Terry Crews, “For this performance, I know I have to do something really special. I'm going to show America the other side of me. I've been writing songs since I was a kid. I'm ready to share something more serious and sincere, close to my heart.”

But then, after warbling just a few lines of a mopey acoustic number, Ben took a long and awkward pause, ditched his acoustic six-string, and admitted, “This was a mistake. I’m… the Parmesan cheese guy! Everyone, up on your feet! Let's goooo!”

And with that, Ben dramatically ripped off his plain denim street clothes to reveal a Rob Halford-style leatherman outfit, and he ripped into a heavy-metal rendition of… “More Parmesan.” Yep, the same song. And he elicited the same reaction, receiving four red X’s all over again.

To be fair, that fourth X was technically the result of a disgruntled Simon taking the initiative to walk over to Heidi’s desk and whack her red buzzer himself. Heidi has actually always been Ben’s biggest fan. “I love it! Let me tell you something: I think that you are the greatest of all time! [The other judges] don't get it!” she told Ben.

Simon was rendered speechless (a rare moment for him), but Howie Mandel, the one judge who’d refused to rescind his X the first time Ben auditioned, didn’t hold back, and he was even blunter than Sofia. “He makes me lactose-intolerant,” Howie grumbled.

However, once again, the studio audience ate up Ben’s cheese. And some viewers even tweeted that Ben is the big cheese that needs to win it all this season.

As for the other contestants who competed against Ben this week, they were kiddie/dog act Amazing Veranica & Her Incredible Friends, West African acrobat team Amoukanama, teen singer/school shooting survivor Ava Swiss, nerdy corporate comedian Don McMillan, contortionist Oleksandr Yenivatov, saxophonist Avery Dixon, stand-up comic Lace Larrabee, singing NFL veterans Players Choir, salsa dancers Stefanny & Yeeremy, and polished country crooner Drake Milligan.

I believe Drake, a former American Idol dropout and Elvis impersonator whom the judges called a “star” and “the total package,” is a shoo-in for the finals — even though he really doesn’t need the win. The guy already has a deal with BBR Recordings (the label of country superstar Jimmie Allen and the last two Idol champions, Chayce Beckham and Noah Thompson), which probably-not-coincidentally is planning to release Drake's debut album the day after this season’s AGT finale.

Anyway, the contestant who’ll likely join Drake in the finale is Avery. The sensitive sax player was already a fan favorite due to being Terry’s Golden Buzzer pick, and this week, Simon proclaimed that Avery will become a superstar — noting that he’d correctly made a similar prediction about Carrie Underwood when he judged “another show” a decade ago.

As for Ben Lapidus, I predict that his chances have dried up like a past-its-expiration-date jar of Kraft powdered Parmesan. But if he does manage to buck the odds yet again and advance, I hope next time he at least performs a song about fast-food restaurants that skimp on ranch dressing packets, or about some other condiment controversy — because we don’t need more “More Parmesan.”

Tune in Wednesday for the first live results show of Season 17, as America’s (literally or figuratively) cheesiest talent search continues.

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