By Kenny Herzog
Special to MSN TV
It's fitting that the fourth season of "America's Got Talent" (Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC) is kicking off the same week that Simon Cowell acknowledged verbal cruelty toward "Britain's Got Talent" breakout star/mentally unstable soprano, Susan Boyle. It might serve as a warning that all insults during its stateside counterpart's latest installment are better off directed at the literally thick skins of its judges, Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan and David Hasselhoff.
That being said, we're bound to witness the usual avalanche of woeful pre-K crooners and sub-"Gong Show" magicians, further reminding us that beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but talent is innate and indisputable.
Hence, one can't help but wonder what became of the program's actual victors. You know, the R&B wailers, puppet masters and operatic unforgettable who somehow restored our faith that "Talent" wasn't conceived predominantly to mock shameless, momentary-fame seekers with limited skill sets. Below, we catch up with Bianca Ryan, Terry Fator and Neil E. Boyd, and look ahead to the show's bound-to-be-entertaining fourth season.
Season 1 Winner: Bianca Ryan, Vocalist
It's not every day you stumble across a pre-teen who resembles Abigail Breslin if she were enraptured by the breathy maturity of Anita Baker. Depending on what piles of weirdness you're stumbling in. Unfortunately, those monster pipes were pent up in the formulaic boundaries of a by-the-numbers, post-Kelly Clarkson eponymous debut (with the notable exceptions of well-suited ballads like her "Talent"-approved cover of Jennifer Holliday's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going"). More of the same can be expected from her follow-up, which Ryan is collaborating on with one-time Alanis Morissette guru Glen Ballard. And of course, when not penning tracks, Ryan is saving the world via endeavors like a theme song for peace-centric Shinnyo-En Foundation's global goodwill initiative.
Season 2 Winner: Terry Fator
Ventriloquism might be creepy (ask anyone who's seen the Anthony Hopkins/Ann-Margret would-be classic "Magic") and optimally suited to dinner theater or
retirement homes, but Fator has brought the art form roaring back with
marionette vengeance. Since taking the second-season crown in 2007, the goateed
vocal impersonator/hand-puppet master has been wowing crowds at Las Vegas'
Mirage venue with Emma, Winston, Johnny Vegas and the remainder of his colorful,
inanimate cast of characters, transforming Louis Armstrong and Tony Bennett
classics into a classy-yet-ridiculous vaudevillian act. The self-proclaimed
"million-dollar voice" has also released an album and live-performance DVD, and
rounded out the hat trick of self-promotion as a published author, thanks to his
autobiography, "Who's The Dummy Now?" That's definitely contigent upon who
Season 3 Winner: Neil E. Boyd
One of the more likeable finalists on modern-day reality competitions,
baby-faced Boyd grew into himself with each successive performance during the
show's most recent run. And he has since become an outsized celebrity, joining
kindred operatic spirit -- and "Britain's Got Talent" champion -- Paul Potts on
a U.S. tour that kicks off July 6. And he just released his debut album, "My
American Dream," which primarily covers pop standards but also features a
collaboration with longtime Meatloaf songwriting partner Jim Steinman. It's
difficult to say how well Boyd's abilities will translate to mainstream critical
mass, but his ascendency is affirmation that "Talent," despite its focus on the
goofy and unrestrained, also provides a legitimate platform for performers
outside the margins of the narrower pop-rock parameters of "American
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