For all the loyal “America's Got Talent” fans who long for summer to welcome the most inclusive, out-of-the-box competition, NBC launched “America's Got Talent: The Champions” for a winter stint, which premiered January 7. In this outing, there's no wading through the woeful acts to get to the prime performers. Each week, each of the ten choice acts is either a champion from the “Got Talent” franchise from other countries or a selected finalist invited by the AGT judges or the select judges from each of the 50 states. Each week, only two talents will move forward as the end of the show approaches -- the one who gets the golden buzzer from the designated judge, and the one chosen by the judges from the states.

Mel B was the golden buzzer girl this time out.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star, Terry Crews, takes the hosting duties on for this run with the elites, and he seemed born for the spirit and enthusiasm required, complete with his repertoire of facial expressions. Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Mel B, and Simon Cowell all were on hand, happy to welcome back favorites. The “Champions” talent who earned Mel B's golden pass through to the finals first surprised Simon Cowell for almost a decade ago.

Susan Boyle had not sung to the British judge from the stage in nine years, and the singer who initially got rolling eyes from the acerbic Simon got standing ovations from him and his fellow judges this time - and all of America to cheers.

The years had done nothing to tarnish her exquisite voice or gentle spirit.

Firsts and favorite picks

What better way to begin an “America's Got Talent” night of champions than with the first-ever winner in the competition from 2006? Bianca Ryan has all the wonderful memories of being the first champion in the competition, recalling that an image of Brandy's face is forever in her mind.

For a while, the dream came true for the then 11-year-old Bianca, before a paralyzed vocal cord required surgery. The healing process literally meant starting from scratch, even relearning how to speak. For this second chance at proving her gift, she chose the song “Say Something” by Great Big World, and her voice was that of a confident young woman, no longer a girl.

The judges gave her the unanimous standing ovations. Howie Mandel called her “champion,” and Heidi Klum said she proved that she was “back on the bike” as a singer.

The psychic couple, The Clairvoyants, were favorites of the judges throughout their Season 11 “America's Got Talent” stay, and this time, the set up was a dream date for each of the celebrity panel. Once more, the lovely Amelie nailed all the individual choices of the panel, even Simon Cowell's last-minute pick of Shanghai over Honolulu, and Heidi Klum's choice of a campfire-scented candle. Simon confirmed, “my mind is blown.”

Simon Cowell and millions of other fans gave loads of love to Sara Carson and her dog, Hero, in Season 12 of AGT.

Sentimental Simon even came to the stage to persuade Howie to take back his X. Sara and Hero have a house now, and the bond between the two was clearly stronger than ever, as they showed with their bank robbery routine. Tricks can be taught, but the love between a pet parent and a dog yields joy and willingness that cannot ever be trained. This was perhaps Hero’s last performance, but he and Sara are unforgettable in their devotion.

Ladder-balancing artist, Uzeyer Novruzov, charmed “America's Got Talent” audiences to bits with his Charlie Chaplin style and seemingly carefree approach to is very dangerous performances, until the most dangerous fall in the competition’s history at the close of Season 10.

The performer, who dubs himself “free ladder man” was back last night, admitting that he had never gone back to the ladder that almost brought self-destruction. Nonetheless, he was determined to soar on the same top step again. The judges screamed and could hardly watch at points, and Uzeyer taunted viewers by rocking, hopping, and shaking his way along before scaling to the last possible rung. Safely down, he can be satisfied that he conquered his fear and his history. Howie Mandel credited that he had “the spirit of a champion.”

Last season’s “trailer nasty” favorite, Vicki Barbolak, was back to offer her usual style of laughs, mocking high-class Rodeo Drive dog owners, and celebrating her move to the second-best accommodations in her trailer park.

Howie Mandel praised that now he sees her face all over Las Vegas, and Vicki is still the same, only wishing she had the service of more male escorts to walk her to the stage the first time around. Simon still has his crush on her and said that if her routine in the finals had been this good, the outcome might have been different.

Swords, song, and final surprises

Alex Magala made sure there was no shortage of scares in this round of champions. The winner of “Russia's Got Talent” brought an assortment of swords in extending lengths and styles, shoving them down his throat. He enticed Simon Cowell to remove one of his blades before scaling a pole and taking a freefall with sword-in-mouth. Magala got solid standing ovations, but Mel B called him “bloody crazy!” Simon Cowell had to confess that he “loved it” as well.

This one was even hard for the usually danger-loving Heidi Klum to watch.

A boy band with dancing moves, Justice Crew, took the title on “Australia's Got Talent,” and Simon Cowell commended the young stars for “having the guts” to compete. Many of the invited contenders declined, according to the judge, because they “didn't want to lose.” Since many of them are working steady, it could also be a matter of not wanting to lose income. The females in the audience let it be known that they liked these lads, and the exposure could never hurt in their quest to conquer America. Mel B told them she would remember their performance.

By now, the entire world knows the story of Susan Boyle. The unassuming, soft-spoken singer shocked everyone, especially Simon Cowell, in Season 3 of “Britain's Got Talent.” She reiterated that her return for AGT in “The Champions” was to be a champion for those “who don't have a voice, who tend to be ignored” Despite having albums that have sold 20+ in millions, Susan Boyle had not sung for Simon Cowell in almost a decade.

The song she chose was one beloved by her fans, “Wild Horses.” Her moment was perfect, and the purity and heart were remarkable through each note. Mel B told Susan that she was going to give her something that no one else had, pressing her golden buzzer. Boyle was taken aback by the shower of golden bits but expressed her gratitude before a quiet wave to Simon and the crowd. Simon was first on his feet with applause, and Howie Mandel explained his expression of “wanting a Susan Boyle moment.” She created her own moment in this first round of competition, and her singing is always a voice for others.

Contortion artist, Sofie Dossi, had her own golden buzzer moment during Season 11 of AGT, getting one from guest judge, Reba McEntire.

Dossi did more of her dazzling routines on a high-hanging hoop, holding on with just the small of her neck. What stood apart in this performance is the speed of her spins, which approached 65 mi./h. Simon Cowell certainly approved, calling the performance “incredible” and her best.

Comedian Preacher Lawson understands the benefits of being last in a competition, and he lost none of his rapid-fire comic style in his closing routine, focusing on the hazards of dating white women, with Heidi Klum concurring with his insights on makeup and making out. Lawson recalled when he had -$14.87 in his bank account, and now he makes a living to support his family. There was a roar after Preacher put a lid on his high-energy set, with an added booty shake for Heidi.

Mel B told the Season 12 finalist that she would give him a golden buzzer. Howie Mandel raved that Lawson was “a superstar.”

The votes tabulated, it came down to Susan Boyle in the finals, and Bianca Ryan, Preacher Lawson, and Sofie Dossi vying for the final vote. Preacher Lawson was the vote-getter to the finals, and “America's Got Talent: The Champions” is sure to hold more excitement in the next five weeks.