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America's Got Talent... But It Only Votes for Certain Ones
September 22

Now that the Final 5 for America's Got Talent is set, it's time to go through the numbers and see the stats. If you want to be a future contestant on America's Got Talent, this is the must-read column for you, because we're going to find out what America is looking for - and what America is NOT looking for.

1. America likes music

Out of the 30 finalists, 24 of them, or 80%, had an act that was at least part musical. That includes both winners from the first 2 seasons, all 10 this season, eight of the Top 10 in season 2, and six out of the Top 10 in the first season - and the only reason why that number is low is that the judges pushed three of the four non-music acts in. Only one non-music act got as far as Top 5 and none of them were close to winning it. So if you don't have music as part of your set, go audition somewhere else.

2. America likes an extent

Sure little 11 year old Bianca Ryan won season #1. But as the show has gotten more mature and older (more on that later), so have the acts and the audience's choices. In the past two seasons, only three kid acts have gotten as far as the Top 10 and only one act got to the finale - and that person in the finale show (Julienne Irwin) got knocked out first. This is still the best show for kids to audition to, but if you're a parent, tell your kids that the chance of winning the whole thing is really bleak - and the judges are more critical than ever. If you don't believe the numbers, believe this - I was at the NYC auditions, where a great number of kids got buzzed out by the judges. Just because you are a kid doesn't give you any advantage at the auditions.

3. America does not like groups

This year, in the Top 10, there are no acts this year with more than three members, and only one act with more than two - and they didn't make the Top 5. Twenty-two of the 30 acts (Over 70%) consist of either one or two people. All of the major dance and music groups took a very early exit this year, and only two made the Top 20. The biggest problem? Lack of diversity - it's much easier to create different programs when you're one or two people than if you're a big group. If you are coming in as a group, you better have enough in your repertoire to be original every single week.

4. America disagrees with the judges - in both directions.

If you look this year at what the judges left out of the Top 40 (Donald Braswell, Junior & Emily, Kyle Rifkin, Lil' Countrie & Page 1ne) Vs what the judges let in (Ronny B, Derrick 'Britney Impersonator' Barry, Indiggo, George 'Human Piņata' McArthur), you can see why America isn't in love with the judging. In fact, every act that the judges saved got knocked out in the very next round, and the 'Wild Card' Donald Braswell is in the Top 5. Then again, you figure that three "foreign" judges (two from the U.K. and one American that is impossibly popular in Germany) won't exactly have the pulse of America. So how to handle it? Be gracious to the judges, but know in the back of your mind that they are probably wrong - except Piers, who this season has been extraordinarily spot on, so listen to him.

5. America likes the classics.

Finally, let's take a look at the Nielsen ratings. The show averages around 10-11 million people, but only 2-3 million of the audience are 18-49. The other 60 to 70%? Older. And they vote. Think about it. Your Top 5 this year is a musical revivalist singer (Donald Braswell), a lady who does traditional R&B standards (Queen Emily), two classical musicians (Nuttin' But Stringz), an opera singer (Neal E. Boyd) and a singing pianist (Eli Mattson). Are these groups that would attract an 18-49 demo? No. Would they attract an older audience? Sure would. In addition, the winners of the past two years have been an 11 year old who sings classic rock and a ventriloquist who sings music of the 1930's-1960's. Coincidence? I think not.

So who has the edge this season? It will go to the person who can mesh both the classics and enough of a current flavor to be relevant. That points to 2 acts - Eli Mattson and Nuttin' But Stringz. However, Queen Emily is right behind them. It wouldn't shock me to see Donald Braswell sneak up and win it either. So could Neal E. Boyd, but based on his performance last week, he's got a lot of ground to make up.

So the best chance to next season be where these acts are this season? Make sure you're a musical soloist - or at least no more than 2 people. Be old enough to be out of college, with some musical experience under your belt. And while being current is great, make sure that somewhere in there are some old classics you can pull out and play. Though being a pure singer is great, try to add an accessory to that, such as an instrument or a prop. Be gracious at all times and realize that an 'X' doesn't mean it's the end of the world. Finally, (and most importantly) - play well, be great, and have the right attitude. If you do all that, we could be seeing you in Vegas...or at least on a TV set with 3 judges.

Gordon Pepper can sing to his piano while using Jason Block as a puppet. E-mail to