AGT 5th Judge: Last Season's Winner Returns Joined by Sarah Hyland — Plus, First 2 Finalists Advance

Dustin Tavella brings his unique hybrid of uplifting motivational speaking and magic to the "AGT" stage one more time, the judges play a round of classic game show "Password," and eleven become two!

For the first time this season we got to literally watch a figurative bloodbath on “America’s Got Talent.” That’s because they’ve basically cut an entire round out of the competition, meaning more acts in this round, but only two of the eleven we saw on Tuesday advancing.

With only two acts getting good news, you might think they’d invite more guests to help pad the still hour-long results show. If you did think that, you thought very, very wrong. There were only two segments we describe as “filler” here. One featured the judges playing a classic game show. The other featured the return of last season’s winner.

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Dustin Tavella wowed us all summer long with his mix of motivational speaking and magic, and it earned him and his new family the million dollar prize and that headline Las Vegas show. For his big return to the “AGT” stage, he brought more of what makes him unique, as well as a special guest.

Dustin’s won came on the heels of spoken word poet Brandon Leake, who picked up the victory two years ago. So it would seem that modern “AGT” audiences are embracing the variety aspect of the show, looking for something unique that they haven’t seen before. So what does that mean for this week’s acts?

While only two of them would advance to the finale in a month’s time, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the road for the nine acts who are sent packing. After all, there will also be one Wild Card act in that live finale. Could one of tonight’s eliminated acts get that?

By the end of these five weeks of this massive semifinals round, there will be 45 eliminated acts vying for that one spot. Suddenly two people advancing out of eleven doesn’t seem quite so  terrible.

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In this new era of primetime game shows, it should come as no surprise that “AGT” leaned into this format to help pad an hour-long show to advance two contestants. With four of them, they were set up perfectly to play a round of the classic game show “Password.” The latest iteration of it airs on NBC, after all, with Keke Palmer hosting and Jimmy Fallon Jimmy Fallon-ing all over it.

Heidi Klum demanded a partner switch so she could pair with Sofia Vergara, which put Howie Mandel with Simon Cowell. As these pairings have become good friends, this should make it easier, right? The reader could only use one-word clues to try and get the other person to guess the Password. Simple enough.

In the first round, Howie benefited from Heidi starting off with the word “America’s.” He simply added “Got” and Simon easily rattled off “Talent.” Heidi’s competitive side started coming out. But it went even faster in Round 2 as Howie quickly rattled off the right answer with only a single word as clue. As the girls evened it up, Howie joked, “That’s cheating. You heard him tell me the word.”

As fillers go, this turned out to be a lot of fun as no one took it all that seriously. But who pulled out the win in the end and won the fake million dollar prize? It’s worth watching to find out who won. It was all very silly, but at least it was fun.

Dustin Tavella (w/ Sarah Hyland)

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Last year’s champ was a special combination of an inspirational speaker and a magician all rolled up into one performer. He could make us feel validated, seen and special. He moved us emotionally each week just as much as he blew us away with some genuinely mind-blowing magic tricks. This time, he invited Sofia Vergara to join him on the stage because he had a special surprise for her, too as she got to reunite with her “Modern Family” co-star Sarah Hyland (and Peacock’s “Love Island” hostess — brand synergy!).

And he did it again. This time his message was about the light inside of all of us, the magic we carry within us. Look, we weren’t blown away by the big spray paint reveal because it was pretty obvious from the moment he did it. But the popsicle stick addition was a fun touch, and the cell phone lights was very cool. So he’s still doing some things we don’t understand, but we’d have liked a little more punch on this whole routine.

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Top 5

To kick off the results portion of the show, Terry Crews first singled out Lace Larrabee and Amoukanama. Now, we didn’t think either of these acts was going to advance, but between them there is absolutely no competition. The acrobatic troupe upped their game while Lace had a simply disastrous set her second time out.

Hanging in there — i.e., being teased a little longer before possibly still going home — were Amoukanama, though this doesn’t guarantee they’ll carry on beyond this one episode. Honestly, with only two acts going through, they need to either get more “Filler” performances to pad this show, or they need to cut it down to maybe a half hour.

The next group to learn their fate included Oleksandr Yenivatov and Players Choir. Again, neither of these acts were good enough to advance in our opinion, but Players Choir was definitely the stronger of the two, and ranked higher for us. So even though it’s basically meaningless, it was Players Choir who got the chance to keep sweating a little longer.

Stefanny and Yeeremy were next paired with Avery Dixon, and while both acts were strong last night, Avery really had a magical moment. There was no doubt that Avery Dixon would be the one to keep hanging out awaiting a final final result.

Then, it was time for Ava Swiss, who really disappointed us, and Don McMillan, who we expect you to disappoint us over, to find out their respective fates. We had Don our second-favorite act of the night, but had no faith he would actually advance. So we’ll worry alongside him as Don McMillan continues to await the real answer about the Finals.

That left one spot in the Top 5 and three acts who wanted that good news. It was down to Drake Milligan, Ben Lapidus and Amazing Veranica & Her Incredible Friends. Ben isn’t even in this conversation. Unfortunately, we doubted that Veranica was, either, because Drake Milligan seems to have this magnetism and his songs are already dominating the charts — and he was our top of the three. That’s how it went down, too, as Drake Milligan rounded out this week’s Top 5. He even revealed that last night’s song echoed his audition round and went straight to the top.

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Top 3

As if it wasn’t cruel enough to create an arbitrary Top 5 to string along three acts for another half hour before ultimately dashing their hopes anyway, “AGT” opted to next create an arbitrary Top 3. This way, one act can get so tantalizingly close to the finale, and then get their dreams cut short.

Is this reality drama or just cruelty and toying with people’s emotions? Well, that’s kind of what reality television is, isn’t it?

After hanging around for a little bit, the Top 5 again took the stage to find out which two of them could have left already, because it was already over for them. Of course, we couldn’t just announce the acts being eliminated. We had to instead build the Top 3.

That meant we got to watch another moment of happiness for Avery Dixon, Don McMillan, and Drake Milligan. What we’re digging about this particular Top 3 is that it means we were right in every way we could be. We predicted that Avery and Drake would be America’s top two acts, but we had Don in our Top 2 (and a dark horse contender as a spoiler).

We still think at this stage of the game he’ll have to settle for third. Perhaps whichever act comes in third each night will be the contenders for the final Wild Card slot in the finals. If that’s the case, then that could give at least some meaning to this particular round of cuts.

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Top 2

So it was down to three acts with only two of them advancing to the Finals. As we said before, we had a good feeling about all three of these acts, but suspected that it would be Avery Dixon and Drake Milligan who actually advanced.

The first act of the season to secure a spot in the finals was Drake Milligan, which pretty much put any suspense out the window when it came to the next spot. Sure, we had Avery and Don as our numbers one and two after last night’s show, but there’s no denying that Avery had a moment — and he closed the show. How could he not advance?

There was something fun about just how different these final two acts were. Don brought something new to comedy with his powerpoint presentations, while Avery almost transcended his own performance with an otherworldly saxophone solo. But there’s just no denying the magic as Avery Dixon took that second spot. We’re gonna keep holding out hope for Don to compete for that finale Wild Card.

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Next week, eleven new acts take to the stage ahead of yet another drawn out elimination that will only see two of them advancing to the live finale. So which acts make up next week’s show?

  • Aiko Tanaka (comedian)
  • The Brown Brothers (impressionists/singers)
  • Duo Rings (aerialists)
  • Freckled Zelda (singer)
  • Fusion Japan (dancers)
  • Maddie (singer)
  • Mr. Pants (comedian)
  • The Pack Drumine (percussionists)
  • Wyn Starks (singer)
  • Yu Hojin (magician)
  • Chapel Hart (singers)

“America’s Got Talent” airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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