Tonight begins the Battle Rounds on The World’s Best. Why must everything be expressed in terms connoting violent turbulence? Haven’t we enough destructive content coming from Lou Dobbs and the MyPillow guy?
Tonight we’ll see little Lydian, the Quick-Draw Piano McGraw, face off with The Mongolian Cowboy, Enkh Erdene, in the oddest pairing since my dog’s fish and sweet potato kibble. Which one will be the England Dan to the other’s John Ford Coley?
Then Matt Johnson, the guy who locked himself in a water-filled tank, is up against the Slack Wire Daredevil. His real name, Li Wei, is much easier to fit on a DMV form. This could be a three-way contest between them and a month in traction.
The singing nun, Sister Cristina, will perform opposite Kazakh singer Dimash Kudaibergen, forcing the panel to determine whose voice is more of the angels. Maybe God will be a guest judge tonight. He could vote by saying, “Let there be light in my pod.”
Are those six acts going to fill two hours, or will they pad the show with James Corden frolicking like a baby goat wearing a sweater that shrunk in the wash? Stay tuned.
Corden opens the trite extravaganza by telling us they’re on a mission to find the world’s best talent, with the world’s favorite judges, aside from Judge Judy and Judge Reinhold. First up for the Solo Variety category are Justin Flom, the King of Cards, and contortionist Twisted Sister Jordan McKnight. They will also fight it out for who wears more sequins.
Justin is targeting his trick to Drew Barrymore, with whom he felt a connection despite the fact that she’s got on the same dress I wore to Kevin Leibowitz’s bar mitzvah party in ’74. The young prestidigitator asks her to pick a card and write her name on it, then folds it in quarters and has her hold it between her front teeth. On another card, he writes his name and puts it between his teeth, where it starts smoking.
When he removes and unfolds his card, it’s hers, complete with little hearts doodled around her name; her card is now his. It’s like a magician exchange of bodily fluids. He then does one of those deals where it appears piano wire is going through his neck skin, and the mood is ruined.
We won’t get scores til after the second performance, so first Jordan McKnight will make us feel we don’t go to the gym enough. She yearned to be a contortionist from a young age, when most little girls want to earn their sequins as a princess or ballerina. Watching the improbable swiveling and undulations, I wonder if she ever steps on her ponytail and gives herself whiplash.
Justin leads with the American judges before the Wall weighs in. Jordan McKnight wins the round. Since they have to press the blue button to vote for him, maybe the Electoral College delivered the goods.
Next is Lydian vs. Enkh. Lydian wants to up his game, so he’s going to give Chopin a little promotional plug. Then he has James don a blindfold to prove it’s really, well, a blindfold, after which he puts it on himself to play a complicated piece. Come on now, Ray Charles did this all the time, and there was no chance he could peek. Next he plays the storied sweeping score from E.T. for Drew. She rushes to the stage to hug the little darling, who will probably never have a girlfriend. Enkh will have to settle for singing the theme song to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Enkh’s interpreter tells them he is concerned because Lydian played so well. Enkh looks like a country singer who would wear a pocket protector. He sings the tune that made Scotty McCreery famous, Your Man, with the immortal line “Baby, lock the doors and turn the lights down low. . . .” Usually we do that when we suspect someone is looking to see if we’re home so they can drop in. Ru is pleased to see country music embraced by another culture, much as we here have embraced Mongolian hot pot franchises.
Who will win this round? First we learn that a person named Stu Golfman is the world’s best comedy talent agent. There’s probably not a lot of competition from war-torn countries. Lydian is two points behind Enkh with the judges before the Wall steps in. They award the round to The Mini Maestro. Lydian wins the round. In a few years, he’ll have to call himself the Mid-Sized Maestro. Faith advises Enkh to get this music into his soul, and some day he can perform on the CMAs with that other second-placer, Lauren Alaina.
Now for Matt Johnson vs. Li Wei. Donning a straitjacket, Matt describes how Houdini is his biggest influence, largely because no one knows any other escape artists. He heads over to be hung by his ankles from a rope that will be set on fire. The flames rage around him as the clock counts down ominously, like a Final Jeopardy with all three contestants having high scores.
He wriggles from the jacket like a worm with Parkinson’s. Then off come the leg braces, and he falls to the ground without singing anything. Why would an escape artist have a huge beard that could easily catch in the chains or explode into flames? He gets out of a straitjacket in less than 60 seconds, but doesn’t have time to shave?
Li Wei does double and single handstands on the slack wire, as well as a split and some other moves that look like they require a lot of Curel Ultra Healing Hand Therapy to ever be able to wash dishes without gloves again. By the way, if you wondered what kind of footwear is right for this kind of activity, it looks like Aerosoles’ Leverage flat, on sale for $59.99.
Then Li brings out a tiny unicycle that he pedals with his hands back and forth along the wire. Everyone is thrilled. I’d be more impressed if he juggled with his feet at the same time. Hilarity ensues when his act is done, and he makes James lie full-length on the slack wire, but only about two feet off the ground. We learn one of the international judges is a Circus Expert. I wonder if she can advise about clowns.
Scoring time. Li is Wei ahead of Matt after the Americans score the two acts. With the Wall votes, Li triumphs. His adorable topknot must have put him over the edge. Li Wei wins the Round
Next up is Manami Ito, who plays the violin with a prosthetic arm. Tears flow in the audience, possibly because the set design is so tacky. Oh, no, there’s two nights of show next week, Wednesday at 9:00 and Thursday at 8:00. Thank goodness I have no social life.
Following her is the 12-year-old girl who only sings adequately, Daneliya. The song, Stone Cold, is too mature for her, all about abiding love and emotional strength in times of duress. I was once her age, so I know now that I only imagined I experienced that with David Cassidy. Her furry sweater is cute, though.
Voting commences. In case the Wall forgets which color button is for which performer, they’ve lit the stage blue on the left and red on the right behind each one. The Americans were much more generous to Daneliya, probably seeing dollar signs for when she first appears on LIVE with Kelly and Ryan. Indeed, the girl wins, striking yet another blow to the heart of string instrument players everywhere. Daneliya wins the round.
Now for the epic battle between Sister Cristina and Dimash. She sings while clambering among several dozen burning candles. The fire extinguisher bills for this show must be huge. She’s covering Like a Virgin as a slow, joyous prayer of gratitude to her Lord and Savior. It’s barely recognizable from the original. Either the sister is that naive, or Madonna has reinvented herself again.
Can Dimash beat that bizarre display, or at least get more candles? This is his first time on an American stage, although maybe not the first time he bought a jacket from Elton John’s garage sale. For his performance, he’s scraped the mold off of fan favorite All By Myself. No one ever sings One Less Bell to Answer, which offers many more examples of gut-wrenching loneliness to sing in the shower. His six-octave range is given quite a workout. In fact, I think he invented a seventh on the last “myself.”
Who will seize glory tonight, and I mean on this plane of existence? Ru, Drew, and Faith give much higher points to Dimash. Maybe God is angry with the Catholics right now. He proceeds to steal the crown with his turgid rendition of a 44-year-old song already driven into the ground by Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. Somewhere Eric Carmen is weeping. Dimash wins the round.
RESULTS with judges scores
Justin Flom – 80 – WINNER
Jordan McKnight – 57 – Eliminated
Lydian Nadhaswaram – 74 – WINNER
Enkh Erdene – 64 – Eliminated
Li Wei – 73 – WINNER
Matt Johnson – 51 – Eliminated
Daneliya Tuleshova – 71 – WINNER
Manami Ito – 60 – Eliminated
Dimash Kudaibergen – 94 – WINNER
Sister Cristina Scuccia – 39 – Eliminated