Freestyle dancer shocks 'AGT' judges with bizarre 'rhythmic spasms,' scary stage tumble

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America’s Got Talent returned Tuesday for its 16th season, which meant that Simon Cowell — who sat out much of Season 15 due to a serious back injury in a freak bike accident — was back on the panel full-time, sitting pretty and ready for the summer TV season in his white Bermuda shorts.

After Cowell’s co-stars Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum, and Howie Mandell were finished critiquing Simon’s hairy legs — “I mean, I wouldn’t send them to a Mr. Legs contest or anything like that, or to the AGT of legs, but they’re fine,” shrugged Sofia — it was time for them to critique some actual talent. And that is when a guy who very well could’ve been a Mr. Legs contender, crazy-limbed freestyle dancer Keith Apicary, hit the stage.

“I guess you could call it dancing. ‘Bodily maneuvers’ is what I call it. It’s kind of a sequence of rhythmic spasms,” mused Keith, a 35-year-old YouTube gamer and self-described “weirdo” who lives at home with his mom, as he explained his bizarre shtick to AGT host Terry Crews. Keith revealed that as a misfit kid growing up in Rhode Island, “I got picked on a lot, but playing video games and dancing was an escape. … I love video game music so much, I couldn’t not move to it.”

And the judges couldn’t not be moved, or at least highly amused, when Keith, rocking a pair of light-wash dad jeans and ‘70s aviator spectacles, starting busting his signature spastic moves — which included the worm, breakdancing windmills, and a categorization-defying array of “bodily maneuvers” — to French techno-pop act's digital bop “Cutie Cutie.” Even when Keith seemingly suffered a post-windmill dizzy spell and shockingly tumbled off the stage with a dramatic thud, that turned out to all be part of his wacky but fascinating act.

Judge Sofia Vergara reacts to Keith Apicary's fall on the Season 16 premiere of 'America's Got Talent.' (Photos: NBC)
Judge Sofia Vergara reacts to Keith Apicary's fall on the Season 16 premiere of 'America's Got Talent.' (Photos: NBC)

“Keith, I’ve got to be honest with you. Based on our little talk before [the dancing started], I thought, ‘This is going to be just awful.’ And then I just loved second of it! I thought you were amazing. I’m not a dance expert, but I’d rather watch you than the ballet,” said Simon. All four judges then said yes to Keith, who teared up and gushed, “I just wanted to say that I feel really good right now.” Aw.

Yes, it was a sweet TV moment. But it turns out Keith Apicary is the alter ego of comedian Nathan Barnatt, who in 2012 developed a variety show with Adult Swim based on Keith character called Youth Large that featured future Saturday Night Live cast regular Kyle Mooney. Adult Swim passed on the Youth Large pilot (which can be seen in full below), but Barnatt later showed off his Apicarian dancing skillz in viral music videos for Kimberly Cole, Flo Rida, Lady A, and Laidback Luke, and at one time he was even reportedly cast as the lead dancing clown for Michael Jackson's (ultimately canceled) “This Is It” London concerts.

AGT might finally provide Barnatt with the opportunity to make Keith Apicary a mainstream star, although NBC viewers not in on the joke — who’d assumed that Keith was a real person with a real hard-luck backstory of being a bullied misfit gamer — might feel duped to learn of his true identity. But honestly, Barnatt was so convincing in Keith character, he probably would be better off just heading over to NBC’s SNL, which is rumored to be looking for new cast members for its fall 2021 season.

Tuesday’s America’s Got Talent premiere featured other comical moments, like four-time auditioner Sethward, a costumed prop comic who finally made it through — despite getting a red X from Simon before he’d even started — by dressing up as some sort of wardrobe-malfunctioning NBC peacock. And then there were the Canine Stars, whose dogs with names like Bow Wowie Mandel and Simon Howl simulated the AGT judging panel in a way that the human Simon called “genius” and the human Howie described as the “best animal act” to ever compete on the show. (Canine Stars received “four barks” from the actual judging panel.)

Tuesday's more serious moments included harmony trio 1aChord’s emotional cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You” (which Simon described as sounding like “entering heaven”), self-taught/Pink-inspired teen aerialist Aidan Bryant, and the Northwell Health Nurse Choir, a team of New York frontline healthcare workers who received the first Golden Buzzer of the season from Howie.

But Season 16 is just beginning to generate buzz, so watch this space to see which contestants get the other three Golden Buzzers — and to see if Keith Apicary can go the distance.

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