If the judges were voting, "America's Got Talent" would be over, and string musician William Close would be the million-dollar champion.
Close engineered an elaborate string and spinning drum setup to earn the longest standing ovation of the night in Tuesday's final "America's Got Talent" quarterfinal. His self-created instruments brought an innovative touch to The Who song "Love, Reign O'er Me" and strong praise from the judges.
"We're done," judge Howie Mandel said. "I think you won this whole contest."
Not so fast, Howie.
Close may have emerged as a front-runner, but he was hardly the only exceptional performance Tuesday night. Two thirds of the acts looked worthy of a semifinal spot, as fan favorites and most of the top audition talent all got packed into the last quarterfinal round. Howard Stern said it best: "I told the producers, I think you guys were drinking heavily when you put this night together."
That's putting it mildly. Some acts that looked strong enough to win it all will instead get a ticket home on Wednesday's results show.
Here's why the last quarterfinal was this season's best:
David "The Bullet" Smith: The human cannonball threw in some cheesy cheerleaders and showboated in an act that essentially lasted two blinks of the eye as he sailed 40 yards between a football goal post. Flying 70 feet in the air at 60 miles per hour is dangerous, impressive — and insane — but how do you turn this act into a headline show in Las Vegas? You can't even bring it indoors. Osbourne suggested that next time Smith fly over a bed of alligators circled by fire. Well, that would be a start.
All That!: The "big beefy" cloggers, as Osbourne dubbed them, made clogging look rather entertaining. But all the judges agree, the competition is too tough on this night. Osbourne suggested the guys wear leather pants and no shirts next time (think, "Magic Mike"). Too bad that advice didn't come before Tuesday night.
Ulysses: The show tune singer ditched his bulky sweater for a turquoise suit, slapped a wig over his now short hair and got buzzed by all three judges. Dropping his trademark show tunes lost him the support of Mandel and Osbourne and gave Stern yet another chance to say "I told you so."
Joe Castillo: The sand artist spun a story about the perils facing wildlife in 90 seconds. "You really touched my heart tonight," Osbourne said, calling his performance "moving and beautifully executed."
Sebastien "El Charro De Oro": The young mariachi singer cried as the judges heaped praise on him. He also made Osbourne blush, saying she was the love in his song about getting to see his love. Thankfully, Sebastien hasn't hit puberty yet so that comes off as cute instead of creepy.
William Close: Like Mandel, Osbourne and Stern were sold on the musician. Osbourne lauded his professional level. Stern called him an extraordinary talent whom all three judges would readily bank roll to produce his show. Imagine having to be one of the five acts to perform after that.
Eric Dittleman: The mind reader spoofed Mandel's former game show "Deal or No Deal" by correctly guessing the case Howie would pick. The way he opened the case from the backside might have tipped his hand to the trick, but the judges didn't catch on. And frankly, the act was still slick enough to be entertaining.
United in Motion: Stern called the young girls "the dance act to beat." They combined athleticism, dance and contortion moves. If Turf looked this graceful, maybe unnaturally twisting a body wouldn't make me cringe. Mandel wasn't as sold, saying the bar on this night was raised and questioning whether United in Motion was spectacular enough to hit it.
Eric and Olivia: The non-couple singing duet used Olivia's unique voice to put a new spin on Tiao Cruz's "Dynamite." Mandel still felt Olivia's voice was better suited to a lounge act. Stern wasn't sold either, saying Olivia had no emotional connection to the song. It's likely the end of the road for this duo.
Lindsey Norton: The judges loved this dancer with graceful gymnastic moves. Sharon called her a "special act." Personally, her dance just looked like an elaborate floor routine.
Horse: The king of the nut chop is a "mad man," Stern said. How else do you describe a guy who allows his package to be abused in every possible manner? Horse put together a superhero-themed show that had the crowd hooting. Having him advance would be fun just to see how next Sharon describes his "dangly bits."
Olate Dogs: "Britain's Got Talent" had a dog champion this year. And Olate Dogs has given America a legitimate shot at one, too. Granted, I'm a dog lover. That might make me biased, if not for the fact that these dogs are truly sensational, from back flips to sliding backward. The Chilean father-son trainers also infused humor into the show, chasing a dog that appeared to break from the routine. The audience was on their feet. "I'm kidnapping those dogs," Osbourne said.
Not if I get there first.