Two months after Bonavega first pelvic-thrusted his way into the nation’s hearts (and into Simon Cowell’s startled face) on America’s Got Talent, the glam-god super-trouper at long last returned for the live quarterfinals this Tuesday, wearing a newly peroxided highlighter-yellow Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling blowout, a faceful of Liquid Sky/Patrick Nagel warpaint, and — once he stripped off his Devo-goes-mall-walking breakaway boiler suit — very little else.
The vibe of Bonavega’s blindingly bright mashup of the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” with own original sexxxed-up guitar jam “Hot Over You” could best be described as “test tube-conceived lovechild of Hedwig and Hulk Hogan performing inside a giant TRON video game console” — which was probably exactly what the musclebound mullet-man was going for, since he boldly told host Terry Crews, “If I have anything to do with it, I’m going to bring back the ’80s.”
And Bonavega’s biggest and most blatantly ogling admirer on the judging panel, Heidi Klum (who appeared frustrated that it took him almost a full minute to strip down to his teeny leopard-print Borat bikini/Cameo codpiece and fuchsia fishnets, and demanded “more skin!” next time), did compare Bonavega to the almighty David Lee Roth. So, it seemed that the showman succeeded in his back-to-the-future mission. He certainly delivered on the promise he’d made on his audition night, which was to “keep turning it up a notch” if he advanced to the live shows.
Heidi’s fellow judges seemed slightly less convinced. Sofia Vergara amusingly observed that the sequined J.Lo showgirl onesie that Bonavega had rocked at his audition was “better for his body type.” Howie Mandel backhandedly said, “I don't know whether you're a great rock star, singer, comedian — you're just confusing. You're the king of confusion.” (Apparently, Howie meant this as a compliment. I think???) And guest judge Kenan Thompson, filling in for the injured Simon, told Bonavega, “I’ve got to give you credit for walking the fine line of crazy. You're bold and confident, and it's infectious. … The fact that you have this ability to create this character is really cool. I really hope there's some kind of spot out there for you, and I hope America votes for you. I guess we'll see.”
Whether or not Bonavega does make it to the next round — though I believe he will, since he was Tuesday’s most exciting act, even more so than daredevil Jonathan Goodwin, who actually set himself on fire — in a way, he has already won. The 31-year-old entertainer, whose real name is Branden Wilbarger, surprisingly endured a conservative Midwest upbringing and was even a worship music leader (according to his recent interview with SiriusXM Volume) before he moved to Hollyweird seven years ago and got in touch with his inner starchild.
During a Lust in the Dust-style spaghetti western vignette Tuesday (see the YouTube clip above), which pitted Branden and Bonavega against each other in a glitter-gun duel for supremacy with Bonavega of course ultimately prevailing, the singer revealed: “Bonavega is this rock ‘n’ roll crazy person deep inside me, screaming to get out. But growing up in a restrictive household in Ohio, I had to keep him hidden away. When I stepped out onstage for AGT, I was not sure what would happen. Bonavega is a collection of all the things I was taught to hate and fear as a child. Branden and Bonavega spent 25 years battling each other, but now I feel like I can fully embrace Bonavega and finally be myself.”
Eleven contestants total performed Tuesday, and only five will advance on Wednesday’s live results show. I predict that among those five will be the above-mentioned Jonathan Goodwin, Russian tween diva Daneliya Tuleshov, homeless singers Voices of Our City Choir, and maybe the adorable if underwhelming kiddie/animal act Alexis Brownley & Our Puppy Pals. It was a weak night, overall, so we need Bonavega to be the fifth contestant in that mix to keep Season 15 interesting! However, I do believe — despite his polarizing style and Howie and Kenan’s nagging doubts — that all the ’80s babies out there will rock the vote for Bonavega. So I look forward to see how many more notches he can turn it up, and how much more skin he can show, on future episodes. In the meantime, check him out in all his oiled-up glory in a video for another one of his original songs below.
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