AGT 5th Judge Finale: One of America's Favorite Acts Blows It — So Who Did Enough to Win It All?

The 11 remaining acts take to the stage to fight for the $1 million grand prize and the headline spot at the "America's Got Talent" Las Vegas show — see who did enough, and who blew it!

After five long weeks and 55 acts, we are finally down to the Top 11 on “America’s Got Talent” and their last chance to win America’s vote before Wednesday’s finale crowns a Season 17 winner.

This was a refreshingly eclectic group of performers, not at all dominated by kid singers — or really singers at all. In fact, there is only one traditional singer in this finale in Sara James. Drake Milligan is a country singer and Chapel Hart are a country singing trio. And that’s it for singers — unless you count Metaphysic.

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They represent a refreshingly large number of acts the likes of which we’ve never seen before in this finale. They bring deepfake technology married to singing. Kristy Sellars is another act that’s totally unique with her marriage of technology and pole dancing in a blend that leaves us breathless and moved every time.

The night features two magicians — who have traditionally done very well on the “AGT” stage — in Yu Hojin and Nicolas Ribs, while dance is represented by the queens of formation, the 36-member Mayyas, while Avery Dixon rode his solo saxophone act all the way here.

Meanwhile, Mike E. Winfield outlasted all the other stand-up comedians and hopes to become the first-ever comic to win this show. If that doesn’t work out, though, we think he’ll be just fine as Howie Mandel did make that offer to open for him, so that door might still be open.

America also chose unique when they brought Celia Muñoz back as their Wild Card pick last week, so could that bode well for her or some of the other acts that put the variety in this variety competition show? There’s only one way to find out!

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Simon Cowell. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

And just for fun, I’m gonna rank them from worst to first to see how my favorites do and then we can see how you did — i.e., if you agreed with me.

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Nicolas Ribs

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(magician) Nicolas’ act is all about his digital light board, but it’s still impressive the way he can bring things back and forth from digital imagery to real objects. It’s seamless the way he does it, so while it is still pretty much the exact same thing over and over again, at least that thing is pretty impressive. For the finale, the twist was that he was bringing a picture his daughter drew at seven years old to life piece by piece, which was very sweet.

Chapel Hart

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(singers) The joint Golden Buzzer winners may have their eyes on Nashville, but they wouldn’t mind an “AGT” win along the way. After showing their attitude and high-energy side, the ladies decided to slow it down and show their hearts with another original about “American Pride.” But what it also did was expose fully their vocal abilities, and that exposure was not always doing them any favors. Their harmonies remain beautiful, but the solo portions were not nearly as strong this time around. Nerves or excitement or just overwhelming emotion, they didn’t hit all their notes or even the conviction the lyrics promised. It wasn’t perfect, but it did have heart — or is that “Hart.”

Sara James

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(singer) Simon’s Golden Buzzer took a note from “Stranger Things” to continue the modern revival of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” with her own take on the classic track. We can appreciate her leaning into the moment this song is having, and she definitely gave it her all, but it didn’t quite have the connection we were hoping for for at least the first half. She was in fine voice until she hit a “power note” and faltered from her key for a few bars. The stage presentation was great, though, as she certainly looked and performed like a star. It just didn’t grab us as much as she has in the past.

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Yu Hojin

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(magician) A little bit of magic, a little bit of sculpting, the magic wasn’t quite as slick as we expected after his whirlwind semi-finals performance, but there was a beauty to how he carried through sharing his story and his dream with us. It was a little slow in places and we definitely would have liked to be wowed more than by the sculpture he created. If he was a sculptor on “AGT” and that was his final presentation, it would be great, but he’s a magician. This wasn’t what it needed to be for us this time around.

Drake Milligan

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(singer) After back-to-back number one songs on the charts after his “AGT” performance, Drake made the unusual — but not unprecedented — decision to repeat his audition song. In a season where you only perform three times before a final decision is rendered, this means Drake is asking America to vote for him based on two songs. Does he not have faith in his deeper catalog? Or did he just want to do this one with a bigger production behind him? The problem is that it didn’t wow us. It looked like a good-time band you might see at any honky tonk, but certainly not a superstar act that would get the closing slot on the “AGT” finale. The judges, however, completely disagreed and seem to think he might just win (he was even allowed to pitch his new album at the close of the show). He is good-looking; could that and the power of going last translate into a win?


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(dancers) Sofia’s Golden Buzzer certainly got the audience going, and we did feel the opening dress image was incredibly strong. But the formations once they revealed themselves wasn’t quite as compelling as what we’ve seen from them before. The same goes for the glowing balls. That said, the image tricks hid some genuinely strong acrobatics and dancing happening with subtlety throughout. They really are quite talented with movement. Perhaps some more dance moments between formations would have better broken it up. That said, we clearly are in the minority with this opinion, so we’re guessing it was far more mesmerizing in person.

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Avery Dixon

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(saxophone player) Avery slowed it down and brought a little sex appeal to the saxophone — practically a staple in music from the ‘70s and ‘80s — and really attacked it all with such confidence. We also appreciated the instrument switch halfway through to show off that he ain’t afraid of no sax. There weren’t those incredible wow moments that left us breathless as we got from his semi-finals performance, but there was a tremendous amount of poise and artistry in this one, as well as a palpable emotional resonance.

Mike E. Winfield

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(comedian) Mike decided to try and connect with America by sharing new material about this moment in his life. This wasn’t as strong as some of his earlier sets, but he did have some good jokes in there about another one of his kids and, actually, his teeth. Talking about how he’s recognized offered some fun moments, but it was clear the set hadn’t been tightened and workshopped as well. Still, he’s so engaging as a performer, we really hope this is just a step to bigger things for him. Howie is keeping that offer available to work with him, so it looks like he’ll be just fine no matter what happens.

Celia Muñoz

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(ventriloquist) This season’s Instant-Save Wild Card performer was America’s Choice to get into the finale, but can she win them over enough to win it all? And once again, she did not disappoint with a wholly unique approach to her act. No puppets, so instead she summoned the spirit of an opera singer, and then sat back to enjoy the show — save for a telephone interruption by her same friend obsessed with Sofia. There’s so much humor and talent on display all at once; she is a born performer who commands your attention from the moment she begins. This is an act like no other.

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(deepfake artistry) What we have been wanting from this group is for them to have a moment, to bring something different and really push this to where it looked like a real performance. We criticized the side-by-side screens in the semi-finals as being just more of the same. Well, this week they took all of our notes and had a huge moment. We got to see “Elvis” talking to the crowd, we had backup singers actually behind him in the digital presentation. The fact this happens live and we got to see glimpses of the real performers only enhanced. Finally, we could start to see the incredible potential of this in a live show to bring anyone to the stage — and take celebrity impersonators to the next level!

Kristy Sellars

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(multimedia pole dancer) This piece was designed and conceived for her daughter as she gets ready to enter her teen years. What a beautiful and empowering piece she’s created. She uses pole dance as a method to convey a larger message, and this was a powerful one about always being there to help guide her daughter through the dark inner days to come. Once again, the visuals were almost seamlessly slick, and she even gave us more intricate and complex pole work on top of that. This remains one of the most innovative things we’ve ever seen, and this entry was just achingly gorgeous.

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We have no idea if “AGT” will show us the Top 5 or 3 or 2 before finally revealing who won this season, but we think there are several acts who might have done enough to win. We had Kristy Sellars as our top act, and we do think she’ll do well with the vote, but will she do well enough?

Before we get into who did great, we do need to talk about one big disappointment. Drake Milligan may have been given the winners’ slot, but we didn’t think he did enough to win it in our opinion. Even so, he came out stronger than Chapel Hart, who had more buzz than any other vocal act this season after their initial audition. That was heartbreaking.

Honestly, we suspect the winner might be a bit of a surprise because a lot of acts are going to do very well in the voting. We wouldn’t be surprised if Terry Crews told us there was an incredibly tight margin between several of these acts.

We had Drake all the way at number seven in our rankings, and we think he could be vying for that spot with everyone above him competitively. There are a combination of great acts and great stories all mixed together to where it’s hard to say who will win.

We’d love to see Kristy pull it off because her act is so unique. Mayyas wowed a live audience, but we weren’t quite as enamored on television, which is how America watched it. Metaphysic could pull off a surprise win after their strongest outing yet, but so could Celia after coming off of America’s Wild Card Vote.

Ultimately, we think this season’s winner is going to be Drake Milligan, which is going to be frustrating. But that last position spot has meant victory in the semi-finals four out of five weeks. With a predicted tight finish, we suspect that will tip him over the top.

“America’s Got Talent” crowns its Season 17 winner Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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