'America's Got Talent' 5th Judge Semi-Finals: Queen Latifah Touched by Powerful Voices of Service

Only five of eleven acts will advance to next week’s finals … which is a huge problem because NINE of them are deserving!

We are one week away from the finale on "America’s Got Talent," and the judges welcomed royalty to sit with them for this final round of the semi-finals.

Queen Latifah joined the judging panel for what is inarguably the most competitive night of performances yet seen this season on the show. Usually, it’s easy to see which acts should advance because so many acts falter. Not tonight.

Only five of the eleven acts will move into next week’s finals, but there were legitimately nine of them worthy .. and the two that faltered simply had off nights. Talk about a stacked competition, tomorrow’s results are poised to be the most brutal of the season.

That said, we’ve made our picks and we’ve predicted who you’ll vote through because, let’s face it, sometimes you’re wrong. It’s okay, we still love you. Just be better.

Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last seventeen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Gabrielle Union, Julianne Hough and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

And just for fun through this round, I’m gonna rank them from worst to first to see who emerges as my Top 5 winners.

Dom Chambers

(magician) This must not be a year for magicians. Dom’s magic wasn’t great this time around, using trick glasses and lamely "drinking" a mega-beer. There was nothing magical or cool about it except for the super long straw that came out of a paper bag. This time it was way too much showmanship and not nearly enough magic. Honestly, it just looked like he drained the stein. This was a huge disappointment.

Chris Kläfford

(singer) This was a tough one because Chris has an incredible voice and he’s really someone special who deserves a chance to have a huge career. But this song was not the best showcase for what he’s capable of. To make matters worse, he muttered much of the lyrics so that if we hadn’t heard in advance what the song was about, we might not have been able to decipher it at all. It sounds like it might be a well-written song, but it didn’t come through with that performance, and didn’t have that hook that keeps it in your mind.


(dancers) Well, the judges were on their feet, but the ladder jumps just didn’t seem nearly as exciting or dangerous as the last time we saw them. In fact, none of the stunts were up to the level of what we’ve seen in the past, and the whole routine actually came across as a little boring and repetitive. Jumping and being tossed are not dance, and we’ve seen both done better by this crew. This piece just didn’t work for us at all. Clearly it came across much stronger in person.

Lukas & Falco

(dog act) Falco has so much heart and he gave it his all on this one. There were a few mishaps and slips along the way, including a few tough little falls for Falco, but his charm and personality carried him through. Dog acts don’t have to be perfect, but this one had a lot of problems that totally derailed the momentum. We’re not sure if it was a lack of time to train Falco right for the routine, or just the dog getting older. Still, it had charm, he did pull off some nice tricks and Falco is most definitely the bestest boy!

Detroit Youth Choir

(singers) We were needing something as this performance went along and then Mr. White and his kids hit the breakdown and showed off their own arrangement and take on "High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco. Up to that point, everyone was on the vocal line and it came across a little safe, but they really broke it down and showed what a full choir can do. On top of that, the choreography and energy made the whole thing next level. There’s still so much room for growth as a choir, but these kids are definitely moving in the right direction.

Alex Dowis

(light painter) Alex is such an interesting storyteller, and this was a really slow, meandering, moving and beautiful piece. It was a statement about loss and heartache but also hope and the power and value of first responders who can hold our lives in their hands and give so much of themselves for others. We love how unique he is as an artist and what he can do with images and sound.


Luke Islam

(singer) Once again, Luke knows exactly who he is and what he wants to do and he is absolutely what Broadway is looking for right now in a young performer. Okay, he needs to learn to move around a stage a little bit while he sings, but vocally he is nailing every single one of these rounds, which are essentially audition reels for what he really wants to do. Luke bleeds Broadway, he has the passion and he definitely has the talent.

Emanne Beasha

(singer) Interestingly, Emanne presented an operatic, foreign-language version of Bryan Adams’ "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." And yet, it worked. That hint of familiarity was both jarring, as we never knew the song could soar like that, and powerful as it helped to draw us even deeper into her talent. And her talent is absolutely remarkable.

Marcin Patrzalek

(guitarist) Taking the advice of the judges — and us — Marcin went all in on musicality and even chose a recognizable song as the core of his guitar wizardry. This was Ed Sheeran’ "Shape of You," but no version you’ve ever heard before. That beat of familiarity, though, kept us enraptured with every variance he created and enthralled with all the ways he makes music with a single instrument. He plays like no one we’ve seen and it’s beautiful to behold.

Ryan Niemiller

(choir) Once again, Ryan absolutely killed it and this time with virtually no content about his arms. We point this out only to emphasize that he is proving a well-rounded comic who isn’t using his difference as a crutch to his act. He’s very funny about his arms and he’s also very funny not about his arms. His delivery remains impeccable and the fact he could rope us into his world so quickly is a testament to his skills as a performer.

Voices of Service

(singers) Taking a lesser known song by OneRepublic, "Choke," Voices of Service turned it into an anthem of love and loss. It was staggeringly powerful and beautiful and absolutely raw. There was so much passion in that performance, and the talent of all four singer together is only surpassed by the monumental talent of Sargent Major Christal Sanders Rheams on lead vocals throughout so many of their performances. She is a force of nature who fits in beautifully with these guys. Queen Latifah was personally touched by their story and their mission as her father suffered from nightmares due to his service in Vietnam. What they do is so much bigger than this show, and yet they could still win it!


Well that was a brutal night of "AGT," wasn’t it? And not for bad reasons. There were a good eight or nine acts that absolutely deserve to go on and only five can. We have absolutely no doubt that we got our Top 5 totally wrong, but we stand by it for the purposes of this column.

As for what we think America will do, it’s hard to rule out America’s love of talented kids, which bodes well for Luke and Emanne. Voices of Service and Ryan also feel like locks, which would only leave one slot.

Marcin is incredible and Alex is a true visionary, but you know what else exits? A whole choir full of talented kids. If we had to put money on it, we’d pick the Detroit Youth Choir to round out America’s Top 5. Now, let’s see if you surprise us.

"America’s Got Talent" airs Tuesdays and Wedesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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