'America's Got Talent' 5th Judge: Season 13 Crowns a Winner in Star-Studded Finale

The “AGT” finale was packed with stars from Bebe Rexha and The Struts to David Spade and Placido Domingo, but did Garth Brooks come through on Simon Cowell’s challenge?

It’s all over for "America’s Got Talent," except for the poor stagehands who have to sweep up all that confetti, but who was under it when it fell? Who won?

Honestly, it felt like more of a crapshoot than ever before. After the show last night, I checked out some of the online reactions, and found out you do not like Vicki Barbolak as much as I do. That’s alright, America. We still cool.

I also found out just how passionate you are about so many of these acts. There were ardent fans championing every single one of these performers in numbers that sure looked pretty damn even. Honestly, though, several of these acts are going to come out winners with new opportunities no matter who won.

One of the biggest questions going into the night, though, was whether or not Garth Brooks came through on Simon Cowell’s challenge to write a new song for Michael Ketterer to perform on this finale. It was a big ask, but Garth has a big heart. Was Simon able to make magic happen? Read on!

Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last sixteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.

A KISS Farewell

Nothing says hip show like kicking off your season finale with those bad boys of 1970s rock, KISS. Wait, 1970s? Yeah, it was a pretty weird way to open the show that only got weirder when Paul Stanley then introduced Tyra Banks and the judges.

To quote Mel B, "What just happened?!"

"This will be our last tour," Stanley told Tyra, which is kind of a big announcement. The "End of the Road" tour is just that. But don’t worry, Tyra glossed right over it and moved on to her usual schtick. She probably has no idea who these guys are. Don’t ever change, Tyra.

Glennis Grace & Bebe Rexha

Not a pairing I would have chosen or seen coming, but Glennis partnered well enough vocally with Bebe Rexha on "Meant to Be," though she didn’t have to try and out-sing her on every note. Also, is there a reality show Bebe has turned down? I get girl’s gotta get paid, but damn, slow down or you’ll find yourself a "Real Housewife" before you know it. She’s a good singer with a solid career, so why the hustle?

Mel B, Stand-Up Comic

In a pre-recorded bit, Samuel J. Comroe invited Mel B up to the stage to do his set so she could give stand-up comedy a try. The material was written, so she and everyone could see how much delivery and timing play in successful comedy. It did not go great, but she went for it and she was cute in her unicorn outfit, so that’s half the battle, right?

Comedy is hard.

Courtney Hadwin & The Struts

Rather than shoehorn her into their music, The Struts joined Courtney in her wheelhouse with "Piece of My Heart" and "Could Have Been Me." This is where she’s most confident and most enjoyable, and she partnered better than we expected with another vocalist. Courtney is just so fun to watch when she’s performing. We really hope this is a launching pad for her future.

Daniel Emmet & Placido Domingo

Daniel’s voice is so effortless, if you weren’t watching the screen, you might lose track of which of them was singing at any given time. It was a beautiful performance and one that surely will prove that Daniel belongs on a stage somewhere singing opera, or rock opera or musicals or something. Just let the boy sing!

Vicki Barbolak & David Spade

Vicki’s bit saw David Spade come out to help her understand Hollywood lingo since she might become a big-time star now. And this. Was. Painful. You could not find two comedians more mismatched, and not in that delightful David Spade-Chris Farley way. David looked and sounded even more bored than usual, and Vicki was just feeding him setups for very tired and very lame jokes. This was a disservice to Vicki, who’s trying to make a name for herself.

Garth Brooks Writes for Michael Ketterer

"The Courage to Love" was written by Garth Brooks for Michael, in response to Simon’s challenge earlier this season. Boy, Michael sounded really nervous to be singing this piece, but can you really blame him? He is debuting a new Garth Brooks-penned song on the finale of "AGT" while wondering if he’s won the show and a million dollars. His mind must be a whirlwind. But what a cool opportunity, and it would be cool if Garth lets him keep and record the song. Maybe Michael’s earnestness would be well-suited for country music. The possibilites.

Shin Lim & "American Ninja Warrior" Cast

Once again, Shin blew everyone away with a not-so-simple card trick. There is simply no one who does this as well as he does. I loved it when he called out "American Ninja Warrior" host Matt Iseman for laughing when he said he wasn’t good at math. His moments of humor are rare, but they work effectively with his overall mystique. He is truly a master at his craft.

Brian King Joseph & Duo Transcend & Lindsey Stirling

It kind of made since to have Duo Transcend join one of the other acts, as they don’t really partner directly with anyone. They were a nice backdrop to what had to be one of the biggest thrills of Brian’s life, performing with Lindsey Stirling. She must be one of his biggest idols and is basically doing in her career what he aspires to do. It was a wonderful duet, with both of them sounding fantastic and doing their thing. I’m sure Brian will be just fine no matter how this turns out.


I hate to bag on an act that’s made it into the finals and is as impressive as Zurcaroh, but they do seem to rely a little too much on the same few tricks, which can get old week in and week out. This performance was both short and underwhelming compared to what we’ve seen as it felt like largely a retread of last night’s performance. Spinning girls behind a wave of arms … something new, please?


Top 5

Tyra Banks paired Zurcaroh and Duo Transcend, so if you followed my guidance you put Zurcaroh through as the act more ready to headline a Vegas show. I know I just bagged on them, but the potential is there. Plus, in a Vegas show you only see them once, so they can get away with a lot of this.

Next up, it was Glennis Grace and Brian King Joseph, and I had both just missing my Top 5, but I know you love Brian King Joseph’s story. And I’m not mad at you for putting him into your Top 5.

Daniel Emmet was then paired off with Shin Lim wich, I mean, come on. There’s no way Shin isn’t in the Top 5, and Daniel is always on the cusp. Tonight, it wasn’t enough as Shin Lim deservedly stayed alive.

Next up, Samel J. Comroe was forced to stand next to fellow comic Vicki Barboalk. Now, I had Vicki as my top act of the night, but when I checked online she had a lot of haters. It turns out "trailer nasty" just isn’t something most people can relate to. She’s more "Blue Collar Comedy Tour," which doesn’t resonate as strongly on the coasts, so I can admit she’s not for everyone. Comedy is subjective and I can totally see why Samuel J. Comroe got more votes.

And then there were two: Michael Ketterer and Courtney Hadwin. You can’t find two more different singers, but I was ready to advance them both into the Top 5. Could the fact that Courtney competed on the UK edition of "The Voice Kids" hurt her with votes? Is her style just too weird? Or is Michael’s story just too heartwarming. Whatever it was, Michael Ketterer scored that last spot.


Fifth: "Does this mean I’m going home?" Michael Ketterer said as Tyra revealed that he came in fifth in the votes. I had him in fourth, so that’s about right. But Simon still loves this guy. "You and I are going to continue this relationship," he promised Michael as they were saying farewell. That sounds like a win to me.

Fourth: My eighth-place finisher, Samuel J. Comroe, did twice as well with America, but he’s going to be fine. "You’re a winner and your career just took off," Howie Mandel told him, and he’s right. Comedy doesn’t usually fare that well on this show, so the spotlight alone should launch new opportunities for him.

Third: Brian King Joseph did twice as well for you as he did for me, just like Samuel. I’m not sure why Brian got a special package looking back at his journey, but this finish is absolutely going to launch his career, as is performing with Lindsey Stirling tonight.

Second: Coming up just short, Zurcaroh is an amazingly talented troupe. They may not have gotten the Vegas show, but if they keep diversifying their show, it may yet happen for them. If nothing else, they’ll probably get the opportunity to take this show on the road, should they want to.

First: I had him second in my rankings (behind Vicki — I know), but I absolutely support America giving him the top prize and million-dollar prize. Shin does things with cards that defy imagination. And even when you can kind of figure out how he pulled off one trick, he’s got a dozen others that leave you scratching your head. This guy is so ready for the big time.

And that’s all she wrote for the summer. It’s been a wild ride, and I kind of have to agree with the judges. This may have been the strongest finale we’ve ever seen on this show. There were so many amazing talents that emerged throughout the season, I can’t wait to see them start cropping up everywhere.

And Simon, I’m gonna be waiting for Vicki’s "Trailer Nasty" reality show. That’ll be a hot mess in the best possible way.

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