America's Got Talent” went Live on August 13, as the quarterfinals performances commenced at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. After weeks of auditions and judge cuts, 28 performers, golden buzzer selections, and a few wildcard choices (at the judges’ discretion) were the select group who had to be brave enough to strut their stuff before the live audience.

Judges have no say in these outcomes from now on in “America's Got Talent”-- only the voting public. From tween girls to seniors, everyone took this chance at a transformed life very seriously. One dozen would perform, and only seven would be voted forward.

Giving the very best

Even the formidable, former NFL player and "AGT" host, Terry Crews, was a bit shaken by the realization that this was “the big one” in starting the serious competition of “America's Got Talent.” The tween girl group, GFORCE, got things going with a high-production performance and their own original song of feminine power. Howie Mandel declared that he was filled with girl power from their magnetism, and the ladies, Gabrielle Union, and Julianne Hough offered standing ovations.

Simon Cowell did not care for their song and counseled them to find a better writer. In fact, the girls followed the British judge’s exact advice from earlier in the competition — to take more control of their performances. The audience was pulling for them, but it remains to be seen whether the voting viewers will.

Going from youthful exuberance to seasoned genius and performance skills, 61-year-old Greg Morton again put together a stellar recreation of magic at the movies. From “Braveheart,” to taunting Simon with the “Jerry Maguire” tagline, “Show me the money,” to bits from “Shrek” and “The Godfather,” for good measure, Greg's routine was perfection.

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Julianne Hough raved that she couldn't wait for what would come next from Morton's genius mind. Howie Mandel added that the artist was “the biggest variety show in one man. Gabrielle Union reminded that “a dream deferred does not mean a dream denied.” Don't be surprised to see Greg Morton staying a while. He's already bound for bigger stages.

Carmen Carter is hoping for bigger stages, too. The singer made herself him completely current and relevant with her rendition of Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.” Gabrielle Union credited that Carmen “made us all believers,” and Simon Cowell said the performance really kicked in for the second half.

Howie Mandel was not too pleased, but voters will make their own decision.

Howie Mandel became a believer in The Emerald Belles, at last, with this live performance. All it took was a slick, sharp, and sexy performance like this one, along with some overhead cameras. The comedian exclaimed, “you blew the roof off” with this performance when it mattered most. Simon Cowell demanded that Howie make a public apology to the Texas troupe. Their efforts won them straight standing ovations and audience roars for their high kicking.

Now it's up to the numbers.

All Sophie Pecora brought to the stage was herself and her guitar. What was within her, in just two songs, spoke everything about the compelling talent of this teenager. She composed a song, reflecting on her entire “America's Got Talent” experience, before performing her original song, “Happy in LA.” The song conveyed an astute message about self-contentment and the audience went silent with respect. Julianne Hough said that Sophie’s wisdom spoke to those “from 9 to 60.” Howie Mandel marveled that Sophie was the most “important” person on the AGT stage.

Gabrielle Union commented that the 15-year-old was already “such a rockstar.” Simon Cowell confessed that he was “in awe of” Sophie, who was able to do so much through her presence and a single guitar. Brad Paisley would be proud.

Simon thought that the Messoudi Brothers should have been scarier with their strength and balancing routine. The siblings strutted and stripped their shirts off like rock stars, and still created almost geometric towers of human strength. One of those towers was several feet off the ground, but Simon was still not impressed. The tally will tell if the voters feel the same.

Rising higher

The singing quartet of military service, Voices of Service, were as inspiring as ever through their presence and conviction, but there was something that didn't translate through TV screens in this performance. The ensemble was backed by a chorale of active-duty members. Nothing could be more moving. Their cover of Gavin DeGraw's “Fire” certainly inspired the live audience, and Simon Cowell told them so. Howie Mandel stressed that they were deserving of a salute. They deserve applause and appreciation for their mission to make lives better for service people in struggle. Let's hope that voters felt their fiery passion.

No one cried more bitterly than Ansley Burns when the judges broke the news that the 13-year-old would not be moving forward. Simon Cowell gave her the sincerest of hugs, counseling her to “keep practicing.” Lo and behold, it was Simon himself who called Ansley back as a wildcard for this performance, and this time, he let her sing her whole song. She selected LeAnn Rimes’ rendition of the John Anderson classic, “Swingin.’” The production was still too overdone, but Ansley hit the big notes and made everybody smile. Only the totals will tell if her “It” factor is enough.

Light artist, Alex Dowis, took on a big dimension with his performance depicting creation, life, and the universe.

The colors were all in green hues and, perhaps, that added to the look of a science project more than an entertainment piece. Simon Cowell seemed to agree. Howie Mandel praised that Alex would the result if “Banksy and Darwin had a baby.”

Depending on personal preference, it would be fair to say that the best of the night came down to the final three. Luke Islam was the golden buzzer pick of Julianne Hough and the Broadway devotee stepped up even bigger with his performance of “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen.” The performance was so powerful that everything conveyed by the musical’s subject matter came through with empathy and clarity.

It's more than aptitude for this young singer - he has true empathy. Howie Mandel insisted that “America's Got Talent” had witnessed Luke's dream come true. Simon Cowell marveled, “how good you are,” and voters probably will join the admirers.

Anyone who likes being simultaneously slashed and scared has to like the dangerous act of Bir Khalsa. The trio lost one of its members and recruited a replacement for this performance. Nothing was easy about the terror involved, however. The performance began with a chain on fire, then the newbie had to endure salt in his eyes before a blindfold, not to mention a blindfolded, chainsaw-wielding slicer of the cucumber perched in his mouth.

The biggest being last, as always, there was the smashing of watermelons (blindfolded again) around the body of the newest member. Everyone survived and the performance won cheers. Simon Cowell called them “fantastically crazy.” Regardless of the votes, that much is true.

Kodi Lee endeared himself to “America's Got Talent” and garnered millions of fans from the very first episode of Season 14. The blind, autistic artist delivered a moving, authentic performance of Leon Russell's “A Song for You” to earn Gabrielle Union’s golden buzzer. The singer and his encouraging mother had more to teach the world with a momentous closing performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Simon Cowell noted that Paul Simon immediately granted permission for the song after seeing Kodi Lee’s audition.

What is most remarkable is the emotional nuance that Lee pours into song, despite emotion being so rare in his situation.

Kodi couldn't help but hear the chant of his name throughout the audience, along with Gabrielle Union’s assurance that he will change the world. “You amaze me,” Simon Cowell related. “I love you all,” replied Kodi, as applause rose and credits rolled.

Tune in for the August 14 vote results on NBC!

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