I just finished watching the final episode of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. If you don’t want to know who won you should stop reading right now.

First of all, I should say that I am really glad that this show is on the air. Even with all of my complaining, America’s Got Talent showcases variety arts and is good for all of us in the live entertainment industry. But there are a lot of serious problems. Click here to see my original rant on this subject.

Of course this show has been the subject of a lot of conversations in the juggling, yo-yoing, and performance communities, and one thing we were all in agreement on before tonight’s episode aired was that there was no way that a non-musical group could EVER win. Obviously the producers knew that too because they waited to give the judges picks on some of the semi-finalist shows until they had seen who the audience picked. With lay-people as judges you can never have a level playing field between music and variety acts. No one understands what is involved in putting together a good variety routine, and that’s fine, but the problem is that almost everyone knows how hard it is to be a good singer, and music has an emotional connection that nothing else can match. I realize that American Idol is not open to some of the acts that were on America’s Got Talent, but the fact that a variety act could NEVER win makes it look as thought the show producers think all variety artists are just really good filler. As long as music is a part of the competition no variety artist should ever enter if they actually want to win. They may get some great promo, but they will never win.

There was a moment on the final show that made me really, really angry. When Regis told the bottom five acts that they hadn’t made it he did it in a very tasteful way, but when he told the 4th and 5th runners-up that they weren’t the winners he did it in one of the most cruel and callous ways I have ever seen. Here’s the exact quote:

“Ok, so now which one of them gets the million dollars? And the answer is: neither of them. They are both runners-up.”

I’m sure they think that is good TV, but it’s just insensitive, and mean. Using that wording says to these poor guys standing there that one of their two acts is the winner. To bring them up like that only to tear them down a few seconds later is not entertaining, it’s horrible. There is no excuse for that behavior. Aside from being astonishingly heartless, it also promotes the idea that cruelty is good entertainment. I thought we got past that when we as a society banned dog-fighting and public executions. In the final moments of any big competition, it is critical that the wording be just right.

Another problem I have is a format problem. This is one that my friend David Fisher (the Rope Warrior… he’s awesome) brought up. As a contestant, if you make it through to the end of the show you will have performed 3 times. They want you to do your best stuff first (to get through preliminaries) and then to keep getting better. It’s easy to do that on American Idol where you are dealing with amateurs who can improve with the help of the professional coaches the show provides, but with variety acts many of the skills have taken years to perfect. You can’t expect to get vastly better in just a few weeks… especially if you showed your best stuff first. Also, the fact that the acts are limited to two minutes means that we are not seeing a lot of the best that they have to offer. The Passing Zone compressed a really nice chainsaw juggling routine into just a few seconds in order to cram it into their allotted time. I’ve seen the whole thing, and it’s a great routine, so it’s a real shame the format of America’s Got Talent would never allow it to be seen.

The winner, unfortunately, was predictable. I think that for the general public the combination of a cute little girl, combined with good musical (not variety) talent was absolutely irresistable. Bianca Ryan is a great singer, but if she were 35 instead of 12 she would not have won. In fact, I bet that she wouldn’t have even made it into the finals.

What do I want? I would like to see primarily musical acts (Dave the Horn Guy doesn’t count in my book) excluded or separated from the variety artists. I would like the acts to have more time for at least one of their routines, and then have an edited version aired on the show. But more than anything I would like to see qualified judges next time around (and we all know there will be a next time). I think that at least two of the judges should be highly experienced variety greats like Penn & Teller or the Smothers Brothers. People who have experience in the industry they are judging, and are old enough to have real wisdom and the depth of experience that fosters sound evaluations. I would be ok with one of them being from the music industry (especially if they don’t separate the music acts in the competition) but you have to have qualified judges. As an entertainer I have certain things that I hear over and over from lay people about my act and about other variety acts. I heard some of those things from the judges on America’s Got Talent, and that was sad to me. I sincerely hope that the show airs again and that they make some improvements. If they don’t make any improvements, you can expect to hear more rants from me. ;)