Everyone on “America's Got Talent” has eyes on the Dolby Theater now, and dreams of the big stage in the competition and in Las Vegas fill their heads. Country Music’s guitar string master, songwriter, and singer, Brad Paisley, took his seat as the guest judge for the July 16 Season 14 first-round of Judge Cuts.

In did not take long for the West Virginia native to make his opinions clear and he was very direct when an act didn't make sense. Out of 18 performers, only seven can move on from these rounds and Simon Cowell predicts early that consensus among the judges will not be easy.

Paisley had the golden touch for one reflective talent.

The fur and the fun fly

The festivities start with a shoo-in sentimental favorite, Lukas and his beautiful dog, Falco. The duo received a warm welcome from the audience and a big smile from Brad Paisley. Simon Cowell guest instantly that their routine would be a version of “The Greatest Showman,” but no one could estimate the sweetness and devotion in every roll, leap, and twirl between this owner/trainer and his beloved 10-year-old companion.

Brad Paisley dubbed them “great” and proposed that Falco get more money. Simon Cowell gave a standing ovation. Howie surmised that Lukas was Falco’s pet, and Julianne Hough agreed that the canine and her completely devoted trainer deserved to be on stage.

Karaoke comic and regular YouTube star, Andy Rowell, tried another deadpan performance, complete with confetti, but he was X’ed off the stage. The Orange Magician made everyone smile with his clownish ways and creative quick-change. “My kids would watch this forever,” noted Brad Paisley. Simon Cowell said that once he takes the mind of a five-year-old, he loves the act.

French beat-boxing vocalists, Berywam, did enough to wow Gabrielle Union, who seems in love with the group who mimicked the delight of being in a hot nightclub. Howie Mandel noted that every noise came from human mouths and not a looped audio track. Brad Paisley was a bit out of the loop in understanding the performance, but credited that the vocalists are “busting it down.” Simon Cowell was less than impressed.

Kicking things up

Following a precious 10-year-old rapper is tough to do, but the Texas high-kick ensemble, Emerald Belles filled up the stage with their numbers, their spirits, and lifting legs to soaring heights. The synchronicity of this performance was far sharper than in the original audition, and Brad Paisley became a fan very quickly. Paisley gave the performers a standing ovation, asking what dating must be like at their school, where they all attend.

Howie Mandel is no dance fan and doesn't hide his disdain. He counseled that the effort was “not enough” for this round, or even the competition itself. Gabrielle Union was completely impressed. Julianne Hough thought they were “tight” but still had work to do.

Simon Cowell stressed that this was a “bigger stage” in every sense.

The psychic couple, The Sentimentalists, were back and had Brad Paisley dumbfounded by their routine involving a red marble and his yellow guitar. “I didn't know what they were going to do-- none of this was planned,” the singer declared. Howie Mandel again deemed the performance “not enough.” Julianne Hough declared that she would be fighting for them.

The acrobatic couple, Duo Togni, did amazing things by the strength of their teeth, hair, and talent. Howie Mandel had the scare of his life when he was asked to be the subject of a “teeth lift.” He consented, but not without several screams to “put me down.” Simon always loves performers who are “willing to die,” and this was no exception.

Sophie Pecora did more than get an ovation from Brad Paisley, she got his golden buzzer, a big hug, and got a big leap into her future and the competition. The 15-year-old performed her song “Misfits,” which made a powerful statement about those who are quiet but, like her, have a “pretty loud mind.” The ballad was completely personal, and Gabrielle Union praised that Sophie’s gift is “so rare.” “The world will know you from your song,” Brad Paisley spoke, moving to the golden buzzer, and sending a shower of confetti over the introverted singer-songwriter who will not live in hiding any longer. Like it or not, she is an “America's Got Talent” prodigy now.

Simon became more stern, suggesting that Sophie shouldn't spend more time writing about “the bullies, because you're better than that.” He encouraged her to write about the person she is and to make the perspective in her next song positive.

Call this all part of the “America's Got Talent” mentoring.

Getting to six

With only six slots now for prospective talents, standards got even stiffer. Comedian Kevin Schwartz struggled in this round. Even gifted and devoted hoops artist from last week’s auditions, Matt Richardson, pondered whether is routine of “Dreamcatcher,” lovingly created and dedicated to his father, would be enough to pull him through. The elegant and breathtaking display featured conversations between the performer and his father.

Chris Klafford captivated the judges with his rendition of “imagine.” This week the Swedish singer-songwriter was vying for position with a subway singer who desperately needed a break of his own.

Tears streamed down his face at the close of “Say Something,” adding to the impetus of the performance. Klafford went out on a creative limb, performing his own song “Something Like Me,” and it certainly moved the judges. “You're something else,” praised Brad Paisley, calling the song “truly inspiring.” Simon Cowell credited Chris for the gutsy move, noting that “it would be a risk not to do that song.” Klafford is set to be a long-term “America's Got Talent” contender.

The Messoudi Brothers brought their dad into the act, and the old man still has the strength and agility that he passed on to his sons. The elder Messoudi was the ground anchor to the tower of strength constructed by the bodies of the boys, and boy, did they pull off some impressive moves beyond “planking” each other.

Simon was appreciably impressed, as was Gabrielle Union, who declared how the family act “upped your game 1000%.” Considering the guys came on late from an international flight, with no sleep or food, they were fairly fantastic.

Dance duos are coming on strong in this “America's Got Talent” season, with Julianne Hough as a seated judge. Two contemporary pairs put forth efforts that were commended by the panel.

The incredible voices and even more uplifting spirits of the South African Ndlovu Youth Choir closed the performances before the judges’ deliberations, doing their best to make themselves memorable. The audience erupted in approval. Brad Paisley praised that music makes the “best ambassadors” for any nation.

Gabrielle Union called the performance “magic” and Julianne was enthralled by the group’s unity.

After considerable back-and-forth debate, the seven performers moving forward are:

  • Sophie Pecora
  • Messoudi Brothers
  • Berywam
  • Lukas and Falco
  • Ndlovu Youth Choir
  • Chris Klafford
  • Emerald Belles

Tune in next Tuesday as the stakes on “America's Got Talent” get higher than ever.