Part one of the America’s Got Talent: All-Stars finals took place Monday, and among the 11 acts was a contestant seeking “redemption,” one that many viewers believe should have won two years ago: Season 16 runner-up aerialist Aidan Bryant.
Back in 2021, Bryant, a small-town teen who taught himself Cirque du Soleil-level stunts by studying YouTube and swinging from sheets tied to trees in his backyard, appeared to have the best shot at winning that year’s $1 million prize and Las Vegas residency. But after the closest finale vote in AGT history, the championship instead shockingly went to underdog magician Dustin Tavella. Fans were disappointed, but not nearly as disappointed as Bryant himself.
Bryant, who was 16 years old when he first competed, admitted earlier this All-Stars season that when it came down to him and Tavella on the Season 16 finale and he heard the studio audience overwhelmingly “screaming my name,” he thought to himself, “Oh, I’ve got this” — and he was then “crushed” when he lost. Judge Simon Cowell also recalled the young acrobat being “in pieces” after his defeat, telling Bryant, “I’ve never seen anyone look so gutted in my life. And I remember going up to you after and saying, ‘I promise you, this is not the end.’”
And Cowell was right. This week, Bryant performed in the coveted “pimp spot” on Monday’s episode, and the show definitely saved the best for last. Bryant’s routine was so perfect, so perilous, that Cowell blurted out some sort of obscenity on national television. (An AGT logo was conveniently plastered over Cowell’s swearing mouth by NBC censors; this is a family-friendly show, after all.)
“I am literally searching for [presumably PG-rated] words right now,” declared a stunned Cowell. “This I liken to one of those moments when I was a kid and I would watch the Olympics… and the judges would just go, ’10, 10, 10, 10, 10.’ That’s what it felt like to me. I have never, ever, ever — on a movie, on this show, anywhere — seen anything so incredible as that, and so dangerous and so brilliant and so well-coordinated. … I think you just completely changed everything after that performance.”
Bryant could very well make it to the winner’s circle this time, but his biggest competition going into next week’s All-Stars grand finale will be blind and autistic musical savant Kodi Lee, the winner of AGT Season 14. Lee became an instant sensation four years ago with his Golden Buzzer audition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” which beaome the U.S. series’ most viral moment of all time, with more 430 million online views; he’s since headlined in Vegas and amassed an even more devoted following. This week, Lee delivered a stark, haunting, and all-around exquisite rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes” that had Cowell gushing, “That was just stunning — honestly, stunning. And I mean, boy, that lyric took on a whole new meaning for us just then. … Every time you perform, there’s just silence. Everyone’s focused, and they’re listening to every word.”
While it might seem like this is either Bryant or Lee’s competition to lose, all of the finalists brought their A-game Monday. Detroit Youth Choir, who was host Terry Crews’s Golden Buzzer pick on the All-Stars season premiere, was “by far the best choir I have ever seen” according to judge Heidi Klum, who along with the rest of the panel was wowed by their triumphant performance of Panic! At the Disco’s “Hey Look Ma I Made It.”
Howie Mandel’s Golden Buzzer pick, Ukrainian dance troupe Light Balance Kids, dazzled with a stepped-up routine that Mandel called “one of the most exciting live performances I have ever seen,” but Howie also predicted that Cowell’s Golden Buzzer recipient, Mike E. Winfield, could become the first comedian to win AGT.
This season’s group Golden Buzzer pick, British crooner Tom Ball (aka “Susan Boyle’s grandson”), delivered a baroque, super-melodramatic version of Radiohead’s outsider anthem “Creep” that earned a standing ovation from the panel and had Cowell raving, “Everything about this has just been amazing, because it was one of those performances that shouldn’t work, but did work, and it was really powerful and moving.”
And finally, another fan-favorite acrobatic act, hand-balancing trio the Bello Sisters, executed a treacherous, “brilliant and beautiful” tour de force that was, according to Cowell, “everything this finale should have” and gave them a real “shot at winning.”
All of these contestants could take the title, but the judges won’t have any say in next week’s finale — and neither, frustratingly, will viewers at home. Instead, the winner of the first-ever season of America’s Got Talent: All-Stars will be determined by a mysterious, elite group of supposed “superfans” remotely watching the (pre-taped) finals. And throughout this season, the superfans have made some baffling decisions, so really, anything could happen. But it should be noted that Aiden Bryant’s former nemesis, Dustin Tavella, didn’t even advance to the All-Stars finals this year — so, whether or not Bryant wins All-Stars next Monday, he has already found his redemption.
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