Teenage cloggers, a light up dance squad and a musician paying something called an "earth harp" emerged as early favorites on Monday night's season premiere of "America's Got Talent."
But the real story, of course, was the arrival of Howard Stern, who settled into the judges table so perfectly you almost wonder how the show got by for six years without him.
As promised, the foul mouthed, stripper-loving King of All Media was both compassionate and honest as he sifted through several dozen (mostly horrible) auditions in both Los Angeles and St. Louis. What we didn't expect was his razor sharp sense of humor. Stern had a one-liner for just about every occasion.
"First of all, I wish I looked like you," he told one performer. "God punished me with this face, and you've got my face."
When Miss Less -- a 55 year-old singer who lets her 22 cockatiels eat out of her mouth -- arrived on stage, Stern couldn't help but ask the burning question on everybody's mind: "If you were on an island and all you had were your birds, would you eat them?"
Surprisingly, the biggest insult was not from Stern -- but directed at him.
After telling an off-key guitar player: "I've been in radio 35 years and you are too weird for my show," the scorned auditioner shot back: "That might hurt my feelings if I respected your opinion."
For the most part, season seven looks a lot like all the others. There was a guy who put scorpions in his mouth, a little girl who looked about 5 performing aerial silks, and a crazy circus sideshow act who stuck long needles through his cheeks. (Ouch!)
Among the night's most memorable acts:
WILLIAM CLOSE, 42 (sculptor/musician)
Close had the judges eating out of his hand as he played his homemade "earth harp" -- a giant instrument with strings that spanned all the way to the rear of the Orpheum Theatre. "I made my career on originality, and I bow to you," Stern praised. "Perfect." This act was by far the most impressive to look at, but you have to wonder how he can step it up each week. Expect William to advance to New York but fizzle out by the semifinals.
BEN BLAQUE, 32 (crossbow shooter)
The night's scariest act involved Ben -- who looks like he just stepped out of the pages of GQ -- shooting arrows at tiny objects while trying not to impale his brand new assistant. (He made no specific mention of what happened to his last helper. Perhaps what we don't know won't hurt us.) Since no blood was shed, Howard loved it. Expect Ben to also make it to the live shows, but not much further.
LIGHT WIRE THEARE, 25 - 43 (dance company)
The crowd in St. Louis LOVED this troupe that created cool visual effects by wearing light up costumes in total darkness. Just one problem: haven't we seen this somewhere before? Last year Team iLuminate did the EXACT SAME ACT (without the fake dinosaurs). They made it all the way to third place. These guys will need to show us something much more original to have that kind of a run.
ELEMENT DANCE CRU, 12 - 18 (cloggers)
So this is what clogging looks like in the 21st century? Hip, urban, cool. All three judges love them. Well, they were the most original dance team of the night and are our sleeper act to make the top ten.
"America's Got Talent" continues Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on WTLV-NBC 12. This episode will feature auditions in San Francisco.