It was Week 2 of the new season of America’s Got Talent, and the show was up to its old tricks. There were funny-animal tricks (a cute dog in a cowboy hat that could count!) and gross-out stunts (oh, that guy who drove nails into a wooden board with his forehead: ouch!). And for the second week in a row, the Golden Buzzer button was pushed, the go-straight-through-to-the-live-show pass bestowed upon someone a single judge deems extra-special.
This week, it was singer Mandy Harvey. She’s a 29-year-old singer who is deaf. As always with AGT, the background story sets the tone the judges — Simon Cowell, Mel B, Howie Mandel, and Heidi Klum — will take with the contestant. And so as soon as we learned that Harvey had lost her hearing at age 18 but had persisted in her music career because, she said, “I didn’t want to give up,” we understood why all four judges’ eyes were crinkled with kindness as soon as she walked onstage. I can’t decide whether this is the proper way to set up a new act, or a tad manipulative.
Anyway, Harvey turned out to be something rare among TV show competitions: A delicate-toned vocalist who sang with calm, conversational phrasing. (Most of these shows starting with American Idol give precedence to the melodramatic belter who oversings with callous lustiness.) The song Mandy Harvey performed, called “Try,” was a self-written bit of piffle that served primarily to showcase her singing style. Accompanying herself on ukulele, she was at once charming and shrewd; Simon slammed the Golden Buzzer and babbled, “That was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever seen and heard!” It wasn’t that great, of course, but good for Mandy.
Last week, AGT’s season premiere bestowed its first golden ticket to 12 year-old ventriloquist Darci Lynne. Ventriloquists — a rare sighting in contemporary entertainment — have been well-rewarded on this show. One won the whole shebang last season (the reasonably clever Paul Zerdin) and it was the Season 2 win by Terry Fator that put both Fator and America’s Got Talent on the map.
Darci seems to be one of those kids whose talent outstrips most of the seasoned professionals. A singer who took up ventriloquism less than two years ago, she boasts a superb technique — excellent lip control and a fine ability to react convincingly with her puppet.
Darci’s sudden ascension to ventriloquism’s top tier has been immediately seized upon and cosseted by the vent community: It was announced yesterday that Darci would be making a command performance “cameo” at the “all-star show” of this year’s Vent Haven Convention in Hebron, Ky., on Saturday, July 15. The convention — the largest gathering of ventriloquists in the world — is always trying to breathe life into what can occasionally seem like a moribund art form. If I had to bet, I’d say the odds are against America’s Got Talent crowning a ventriloquist the winner two years in a row, but the vent industry is lucky to have Darci Lynne as its current avatar.
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. on NBC.
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