The competition is heating up more than ever in America’s Got Talent Season 16, and the first round of quarterfinals resulted in some unforgettable acts getting eliminated. Nobody made any huge mistakes (although one act certainly wasn’t to Simon Cowell’s taste) to make it easy to predict whose journey would end when the results were revealed, and the performers themselves had nothing but good things to say after their final acts.
Musical group Gangstagrass, escape artist Matt Johnson, animal stunt group Canine Stars, dance group Beyond Belief Dance Company, and Sethward all had their AGT journeys end, but they spoke to CinemaBlend and other outlets immediately following the live performances in the AGT quarterfinals episode on August 10. Here’s how they felt after taking the stage to perform what turned out to be that final time!
For their quarterfinals performance, Gangstagrass – comprised of Rench, Dan Whitener, Brian Farrow, R-SON the Voice of Reason, and Dolio the Sleuth – hit the America’s Got Talent stage with an original song called “All For One.” They brought the kind of energy and showmanship to the quarterfinals that had resulted in the judges advancing them the first time around, and proved yet again that there’s an audience for a combination of bluegrass, hip-hop, and more as a genre.
Sadly, however, “All For One” was their last AGT performance, and the judges weren’t all as enthused with their performance as the audience at the Dolby Theatre was. Dolio the Sleuth shared how the group was dealing with some of the tougher comments:
The way we coped with it was the fact that the audience was really on our side and that [judges] Sofia [Vegara] and Heidi [Klum] were definitely in there groovin’ with it. So as long as the audience is down with it, you know, every now and then you’re gonna have a couple of people that won’t necessarily be hip to the to the vibe. But they’re still invited to the party.
Considering that the audience at the Dolby Theatre actually booed judge Howie Mandel when he made some criticisms, the band members had every reason to believe that the audience was on their side. Sofia Vergara and Heidi Klum definitely weren’t the only ones groovin’ with their original song, and Dolio the Sleuth’s message of everybody being invited to the party is a positive one, even if they ultimately would not be voted forward. They went on to share how they hoped their different backgrounds could speak to voters watching from home:
Dan Whitener: Basically, we just want to give America something that everybody can vote for. Brian Farrow: Yeah, we’re from all over the country. So we’re getting votes from all over the country. We’re really happy to be supported by our communities back home. Dan Whitener: Yeah, back home is kind of all different parts of the country. Omaha, Pensacola, Philly, California, Oklahoma. R-SON: So we’re all over the place. And just knowing that we know all sorts of people and have people and fans all over the country and all types of folks, we’re confident that we will be able to get it. Dolio the Sleuth: And we’ve been feeling love from y’all since the audition.
Although Gangstagrass won’t be moving forward on America’s Got Talent, I think it’s safe to say that they have more fans than ever after getting to showcase their musical talent on the AGT stage. And at least there’s the fact that the competition in their round of quarterfinals was so stiff that no matter what happened, some immensely talent acts would have to be eliminated.
All the performers in the first quarterfinals round of competition turned in some memorable acts, but none was quite as literally death-defying as escape artist Matt Johnson’s efforts to escape being chained to a door before a chainsaw could make contact with his face. Fortunately for everybody (especially given that this was a live broadcast of AGT), Johnson did escape death’s door to wow the audience without making them watch something gruesome.
There were some comments from Simon Cowell about the grunts and groans that Matt Johnson was releasing during his act, and Johnson took some time after stepping off the stage to defend the sounds, saying:
I actually, funnily enough, earlier in the week was rehearsing and I was making way more noise. And somebody said to me, ‘You’re making a bit too much noise.’ And I’m like, ‘But it’s legitimate. Like, I’m trying to get out of these locks.’ And I’m like, ‘[the chainsaw] is coming at my face.’ … In rehearsal, I said a word that I’m not supposed to say, when we were camera blocking it, I just blurted it out because you’re so not in charge of your emotions and your noises and the physicality when you’re trying to get these locks undone. You’re having problems with them. It just is what it is. But I don’t disrespect Simon. He’s great. I’m here on the show, and I have him and all the judges to thank, so how can I hold it against him?
Something tells me that if anybody other than an experienced escape artist like Matt Johnson tried the chainsaw maneuver on death’s door, we’d be making a whole lot more noise to try and get ourselves rescued! Despite his near-death experience while doing an act not so long ago, Johnson came across as fearless and focused – even if he wasn’t in full control of the sounds he was making. He also shared how the pressure of performing live in the quarterfinals was different from the auditions stage:
My fate is in the hand of the voters at home. And all I’m gonna say is, everybody, when I watched rehearsals today, everybody on this show deserves to go through. And that’s just my honest, honest belief, the seven that can go through. Everybody’s phenomenal. I’m just in such awe of the talent. I mean it sincerely. And so whatever happens happens, and if I don’t get voted through, it was a good ride while it lasted. And if I do, I’ve got more intense stuff to show. And so how could that be wrong? Right? How can I be sad about that? It’s the greatest stage in the world. I’ve been given this opportunity and I just am just loving every minute, so I’ll keep going until the ride’s over.
While it’s sad for Matt Johnson that his AGT journey came to an end after his quarterfinals performance, he at least made it clear that he valued the entire experience and felt that everybody who performed in his round had the talent to deserve to continue on. If he believes he had a good ride while it lasted, who are viewers to disagree with him?
The Canine Stars group were the last animal performers still in the running for the top AGT prize by the time the quarterfinals kicked off, and their final performance was amazingly elaborate, with plenty of dogs energetically running around to do tricks with trainers while a select four were tasked with sitting still and playing the America’s Got Talent judges. Following the quarterfinals performance, trainer Keri Caraher explained the rehearsal process:
It was actually pretty easy. We had to just, you know, do our hand motions for the judge dogs on the side. And then the dogs just had to sit there. So our parts were easy. It was all the dogs that were on the stage doing the performance, all the tricks and stunts and all that. Which is something that actually most of the dogs do. Naturally, the dogs that wanted to chase Frisbees, they were the ones doing the Frisbee tricks. The ones that like dancing, you know, doing tricks for treats, those guys were doing the dancing stunts. So yeah, it wasn’t actually that difficult. We just go with whatever the dog is naturally good at already. And we highlight that.
Of course, the AGT stage is unlike any other, and the rehearsal process with so many different dogs and trainers, and such strong choreography, had to go well. Trainer Keri Caraher detailed just how complicated it was to pull everything together for the America’s Got Talent performance:
It was pretty crazy because our trainers are all over the world. So we weren’t able to train all together at all until we got here. So we only had about five days to put this all together. But like I said before, we just went with whatever the dogs are naturally good at. These two are good at just hanging out sitting in the chair. So they got the judges positions but all of our dogs, they all have their special, unique talents. And that’s what we brought and showed in our performance.
Watching Canine Stars’ quarterfinals performance, I for one wouldn’t have guessed that there were only five days to put it all together for the AGT stage! The dogs seemed to be just as professional about hitting their cues as all the human competitors in America’s Got Talent Season 16, and it’s too bad that viewers won’t get to see them perform again, even if there were only so many acts that could move forward.
Beyond Belief Dance Company
Beyond Belief Dance Company brought a troupe of girls out to perform as one big group for the spectacle while also demonstrating the individual personalities of the girls, with founder Justin Johnson even explaining why the group went for a fun Clueless theme for their quarterfinals performance. After that big performance, Johnson and several of the girls took time to chat about the group, and Johnson explained the story behind the “Beyond Belief” name that brought them all the way to AGT:
This is really unbelievable. But I was driving from Galveston, Texas back home after a dance competition, where I was like a student teacher. And I told my best friend, ‘If I ever have a studio, it’s going to be so big. And you will see this name in lights one day, it’s just gonna be like, beyond belief.’ And she looked at me and I go, ‘That’s it. Beyond belief.’ And here we are 20 years later on the world’s largest stage at the Dolby Theatre with these fantastic, fantastic, the youth of today, the future of tomorrow, artists. So what a treat!
After watching the young dancers perform their Clueless number to “BO$$” by Fifth Harmony, could anybody blame Justin Johnson for overflowing with praise for them as the fantastic artists of the future? They held their own in a competition that has included other dance acts, and plenty of adults who undoubtedly couldn’t pull off what they delivered on the AGT stage. Justin Johnson continued:
And all of these kids are my competitive company. And so they have been training with each other, they probably spend more time with each other than they do their family members. Very talented group of young dancers and I would say probably the most inspiring group that I’ve ever worked with over 20 years.
Justin Johnson also revealed that the young dancers range in age from 8-years-old to nearly 13-years-old, so there’s a lot to admire about the group. Plus, based on the smiles and excitement on the faces of the girls as they performed, they don’t mind spending so much time together and building their own little dance family!
Sethward is a truly one-of-a-kind America’s Got Talent act, although he has certainly brought his act to AGT several times already! The physical comedian actually made his AGT debut back in Season 13, when he dressed as a caterpillar and “accidentally” flashed the judges and audience with a hole in his costume, which was of course blurred out for broadcast. After getting cut in Season 13, he returned in Season 14 as both a giraffe and a walrus. As one does!
After missing Season 15, he came back for Season 16, and third time was the charm! He was advanced to the quarterfinals, where he emerged from backstage as a peacock, only to shed his peacock feathers and quite literally rise into the air as a phoenix, to the delight of the audience at the Dolby Theatre, although not so much Simon Cowell. Still, Sethward’s spirits didn’t seem too dampened in the episode when host Terry Crews asked if he had any advice for anybody who might be giving up their AGT dreams:
Yes, I do. Listen, it’s really hard to get on this stage, and it takes a lot of guts. But if I can do it, you can too!
He followed his inspiring message with a classic Sethward shriek, so all things considered, he had a pretty solid farewell performance, even if there was no way of knowing at the time that it would be his last. He already made it much further in Season 16 than ever before, and he can be proud that he made it as far as he did. While I don’t know that I would have advanced him over any of the seven acts who got to move forward, I will miss that shriek of his. What can I say? I’ve seen him enough times that he wore me down.
The first week of quarterfinals narrowed down the pool of contestants still in the running for the $1 million and Las Vegas show, but the cuts have only just begun. The quarterfinals continue with new episodes on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, with the results announced on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more America’s Got Talent, and be sure to check out our 2021 fall TV premiere schedule for more of what’s on the way!