Howie Mandel scathingly critiques 'AGT' boy band Travis Japan: 'It was like a Saturday Night Live sketch'

After a disastrous qualifiers episode last week when almost every contestant received a vicious critique, America’s Got Talent got back on track Tuesday for Season 17’s final qualifying round — making it very difficult for viewers to pick only two out of 11 acts to advance to next week’s grand finale.

Lebanese dance troupe Mayyas certainly seemed like the ones to beat this week, with Simon Cowell describing their mesmerizing performance as the sort that “changes the world,” and Howie Mandel even raving, “This — visually, audibly, and in every way — is the best moment I have seen in AGT history.” But they weren’t the only dancers receiving high praise. Simon told Australian contemporary hoofer Max Ostler that his song choice (Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill”) was “immaculate” and his choreography was “incredible,” and he said pole-dancer/multimedia storyteller Kristy Sellars's imaginative routine was “one of the most astonishingly, brilliant, creative acts we've seen.” Acrobatic team Urbancrew also scored a “10” from Simon and were declared Heidi Klum and Howie’s favorite act of the night.

Unfortunately, the one contestant this week that didn’t earn high marks — and in fact received the sort of harsh criticism that ran rampant on the show last week — was Tokyo boy band Travis Japan.

Doing their original tune “Party Up Like Crazy,” the J-pop septet dazzled with their own choreography (albeit not at a Mayyas/Ostler/Sellars advanced level), but their vocals were severely lacking. This was probably at least partially due to technical difficulties — their voices were so muted and muffled, it seemed their microphones weren’t functioning properly, plus their backing track was totally off — but the overall result was underwhelming, especially on such a talent-packed final qualifiers night. Howie actually buzzed them midway through… although that may have been a little too harsh, as he instantly elicited boos from the live audience.

Once Travis Japan were finished, Howie explained: “Listen, I'm a big boy band fan. … You’ve got to hit some of the notes when you were singing the solos! They were really off. It seemed like a parody. It was like a Saturday Night Live sketch. If Liza Minnelli goes to Japan and puts together a boy band, this is what it looks like.” More boos ensued.

Simon — who, as Howie pointed out, was responsible for assembling one of the biggest boy bands in recent memory, The X Factor U.K.’s One Direction — was a bit nicer, interestingly. But not by much. “Look, it's quite difficult singing live,” Simon shrugged. “If you were to rewind the performance and turn the volume off, it would be great. You're great. The personalities are fantastic. Love the choreography. The song was dreadful. Your nerves got to you. It was actually just the wrong song, full stop.” Heidi “loved the glitz and dancing and choreography” but felt “the singing needed something,” and Sofia Vergara agreed that “the vocals today were a little bit bad. The dancing was great. It's hard to dance with that microphone and sound great. I don't think tonight was your night.”

Social media reactions were mixed, with many devoted Travis Japan fans blaming mic issues for the group’s subpar performance. Other viewers agreed that the boy band had failed to impress, but still thought Howie went too far with his red X and nasty comments. Later in the evening, Howie attempted to smooth things over with his praise for Japanese yo-yo trickster Shu Takada, telling Shu, “I think you redeemed your country again tonight. Japan has to be proud!” Simon chucklingly pointed out, “By the way, Howie is only saying that because I saw his Twitter page after his very rude remarks to the boy band, and [fans are] not happy with him!” To be honest, Howie’s shady comment probably only caught him more flak.

Travis Japan have their own good-sized social media audience — 952,000 followers on Instagram and 1.1 billion combined views across TikTok — so perhaps their fanbase will rally to vote them through to the finals against Howie’s wishes. I’m still predicting it’ll be Mayyas and Kristy Sellars in this week’s top two, but for those contestants who don’t make it through via the public vote, there’s still hope. On Wednesday, all four judges, who’ve had zero input during this season’s revamped live format, will each put forward a wild card act. Viewers will then vote in an instant save round, with one of those four acts advancing to the Sept. 13 final showdown.

My guess is Howie won’t be nominating Travis Japan… but you never know what’ll happen on this crazy show. See you then.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

· 'One of the strangest evenings we’ve ever had': Everything goes wrong on 'AGT'

· Welcome to the dollhouse: Creepy celebrity sisters pull off the ultimate 'AGT' prank

· Mayyas honor late 'AGT' contestant with stunning routine: 'What really got us to audition this year is Nightbirde'

· Simon Cowell's deadly 'America's Got Talent' stunt shocks audience: 'We need a medic!'

· Nick Cannon on quitting 'America’s Got Talent': 'One of the best decisions I ever made in my career'

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