Spoilers ahead for the results episode of the first round of America's Got Talent Season 16 semi-finals.
America's Got Talent is hurtling toward the finals of Season 16, which means the crop of remaining competitors has to be cut by more than half. The first night of semi-finals brought back some of the best of the best, including two golden buzzer winners, a wide variety of performances, and a couple of mishaps. Magician Dustin Tavella was one of those who ran into a snag during his performance thanks to a Howie Mandel surprise, but he managed to recover. But was it enough for the finals? The magician shared how he felt after the mishap, and Howie Mandel weighed in on the twist. And that's not all!
As of the results episode, Dustin Tavella's performance certainly was enough for the finals, as he was in the top three acts of the semi-finals to sails through to the finals, along with stand-up comic Gina Brillon and teen aerialist Aidan Bryant with his safety net-free stunts. There was some suspense, as he was up against powerhouse 10-year-old singer Peter Rosalita, but Tavella is the one moving on! And here's how he and the judges felt after the performance that earned him a spot in the finals.
Dustin Tavella's Color Surprise With Howie Mandel
Dustin Tavella delivered his most elaborate performance of America's Got Talent Season 16 to date, which involved all four judges making seemingly random picks leading to the ultimate reveal that Tavella had the answers all along. Plus, a postcard that was burned on stage, only to turn up perfectly intact except for a corner that Terry Crews tore off! Unfortunately, Tavella ran into a problem early on, when he asked Howie Mandel to choose an envelope of a color that spoke to him, only for Mandel to reveal that he's color blind.
It was a twist that the magician clearly didn't see coming, and just about the worst luck that he could have had, but he rolled with it and ultimately stuck the landing. When Dustin Tavella spoke with CinemaBlend and other outlets following the semi-finals episode, he shared how he prepares for something so interactive when he can't control the twists, like what happened with Howie Mandel:
I think to me, kind of like the thrill of magic and performing magic is you never really know exactly how stuff's gonna go. You don't know if stuff's gonna work. You never know how people are going to respond. So it's funny because it's like a very risky art form. But at the same time, the payoff is so fun when you just hear people laughing and having a good time. And getting back to that childlikeness thing that I love the most about magic.
It seemed like Dustin Tavella's act could have fallen apart if the envelope issue had stalled him, but instead he bounced back and made it funny rather than awkward. As Simon Cowell noted, he's a born storyteller, and Howie Mandel didn't make a big deal out of not being able to tell the colors apart, other than dropping the bombshell that he's color blind. Speaking to press after the episode, Mandel shared how he actually chose the envelope:
It looked like a bright color. And the person I was thinking about is the color and the brightness in my life. So in my mind, that one stuck out. I don't know what color it was, he told me it was green.
As non-color blind viewers knew, he did indeed choose a bright green envelope, which really made Dustin Tavella's big green envelope reveal at the end all the more impressive. There was no way that Tavella could have predicted that Mandel would choose a color when he wasn't 100% sure what color it was, so the mishap made the act feel all the more magical for me.
What The Judges Thought (And Didn't Get) About Dustin Tavella's Act
The first round of Season 16 semi-finals raised the stakes higher than ever, and there wasn't really a weak link among the performers (although Simon Cowell didn't necessarily agree). The judges in the episode had plenty of good things to say about Dustin Tavella's latest performance, as well as the story he told about his wife Kari while doing so. After the episode, Howie Mandel elaborated on Tavella's act to share what he thought about it on the whole:
I thought every moment and anytime he's appeared on this show, he is so unique, and so interesting, and adds not only the mystique to magic, but he adds a story and drama and emotion that no other magician has ever put into their act.
Dustin Tavella was the only magic act to appear in this semi-finals round, so he stood out more than ever. Bringing the judges in as part of performance always helps a contestant stand out, which is more valuable than ever when they're just one step away from reaching the AGT finals. Heidi Klum shared what it's like to be part of Tavella's act:
Well, you guys really have to understand also, we don't know anything that's going to happen. We're not part of it as like, in on anything. We don't know what he's gonna do. And so it is crazy, when you see that it works out in the end. You know, that it is that card when he burned it, and then all of a sudden... I mean, I'm always gobsmacked when I see what he does. I also love that he always surprises us with new things, things that we have not seen before. Because when you go to a magic show, so many of these bits that they do, you have seen over and over again. But he always thinks of something that is fresh, and that is new, and I admire that about him.
The judges aren't in on the secrets of what Dustin Tavella has in mind when he performs any more than viewers from home do, which certainly explains why nobody would have thought to tell him about Howie Mandel's color blindness, and Heidi Klum was also impressed by his originality and ability to surprise. That said, Sofia Vergara noted in the episode after the performance that she thought this was the most nervous she'd seen him on AGT, although she also said he was "even better even though you were more nervous than ever."
Heidi Klum later echoed Sofia Vergara's comments about him seeming nervous, but also made it clear that him appearing to be incredibly nervous didn't take away from the quality of his magic act. Klum said:
I mean, he was beyond nervous. I don't know if that resonated when you see it on the television at home. But like, I mean, he could hardly speak, this poor guy. You know, he had no spit in his mouth. I know exactly what that's like, I've had that many times, so I was feeling for him. Because, you know, when you have that cotton mouth. Poor, poor thing. But it's crazy when you think about how many people are watching. It’s like 17 million people watch. So it's scary, but I hope that people will look beyond that and actually see what he just did, which was fantastic.
As Heidi Klum said, millions and millions of people watch America's Got Talent, so it would almost be odd if he didn't have some serious nerves when taking the stage with the finals on the line. It was also a night when his family wasn't at AGT with him, and running into that snag with Howie Mandel couldn't have helped. That said, according to Dustin Tavella, he wasn't actually as nervous as the judges thought. Tavella shared why he thought he came across as much more nervous than usual in the semi-finals:
I think just a little bit of everything. My wife and my boys couldn't be here at the theater tonight. It's always a confidence boost having them around. I think the other thing that's funny is I'm just like super ADHD. And so I think anytime I'm having fun, I get way more nervous-feeling just because I'm really fidgety. So yeah, probably a combination of all these things.
Apparently, what the judges didn't quite get from Dustin Tavella's performance was that what seemed like more nerves than usual was actually how he shows when he's having a lot of fun and getting excited. He was clear that he was nervous, but it seems that he was more excited about what he was doing than the nerves getting the better of him. And after he placed in the top three in the first night of semi-finals, I'd say that he has more than ever to be excited about! In case you missed his big performance, check it out:
After the first night of semi-finals, five acts are guaranteed to move on to the finals: Dustin Tavella, Gina Brillon, Aidan Bryant, and golden buzzer winners Jimmie Herrod and World Taekwondo Demonstration Team. Jimmie Herrod and World Taekwondo Demonstration Team were in danger of elimination, as they along with Michael Winslow came in fourth, fifth, and sixth in the votes. The two golden buzzer winners coming so close to their journeys ending before the finals is proof that the top prize of $1 million and a Las Vegas stage show could still go to anybody, golden buzzer or not.
Check out the next night of America's Got Talent semi-finals on Tuesday, September 7 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, followed by the results episode that will decide the last five finalists on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET.