The America’s Got Talent Season 17’s auditions finally ended on Tuesday, and when the episode ended on a wink, the judges were still struggling to narrow this year’s 138 successful auditions down to the super-big 55 acts—compared to previous seasons’ 36— who will compete for a Las Vegas residency and a $1 million prize. Fifty-four of those contestants were announced later in the evening (scroll for the full list), while a remaining 55th spot goes to one of four wildcards currently available for public voting on the social media platforms and the show’s official website.
But surprisingly, one of the star performers from this season’s final audition was octogenarian exotic dancer Penny Starr Sr., did failing to make the top 55… despite the bold promise she made to brazen judge Simon Cowell.
Penny, who proudly calls herself “America’s oldest burlesque dancer” at age 88, is clearly a national treasure either way. A member of the Burlesque Hall of Fame who has been dancing her “whole life” and already acquainted with Vegas stages from her annual performances at Sin City’s Exotic World convention, the silver TBEN snuck onto the AGT stage Tuesday with red, white, and blue boa feathers, declaring, “I want to give America a real show, a make-up show!” The thrusting and abrasive grand dame then proceeded to shed those feathers, along with a few other lace garments, to the spunky tune of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
The judges were delighted. Former Victoria’s Secret model Heidi Klum, herself an expert when it comes to working onstage in lingerie, cheered excitedly as Penny’s act climaxed with a blast of patriotic confetti. Fellow vixen Sofia Vergara gave Penny a standing ovation and told her, “I want to be you when I grow up!” Simon, however, seemed most impressed… to flirt with Penny.
First, Simon asked the feisty senior, who has been married six times, if she was looking for a new husband – almost as if he was volunteering for the position. (Her snappy response: “Yeah, but it takes a while to break them in!”) And then he asked her the bold question that would presumably define her AGT lot.
“If you went forward, would more clothes come off?” asked Simon.
“Oh yeah, Absolute!” Penny answered enthusiastically and shook her tail feathers.
“I want to see Lake!” Judge Howie Mandel then surprisingly called out when Penny got a four yes.
Unfortunately, Penny’s win was short-lived, so we will not going to see more of her – at least not on AGT. Shortly after her audition aired, NBC announced via a press release that she had failed to make this season’s top 55 shortlist. But Penny should be the subject of her own biopic – Simon’s production company, Syco TV, should really get into that – because her life story is actually more incredible than most of the crazy stuff that airs on America’s Got Talent.
Born Janet Gaynor Colby in Allentown, Pennsylvania, this mother of two and former department store model got into show business in 1957 by literally joining the circus—doing a dangerous dance routine with a live elephant—before landing a regular gig in Florida ended up burlesque club Guys & Dolls. Her stage name taken from the classic movie musicals Pennies from heaven and A star is bornshe was eventually crowned Miss Bump-and-Grind at the Cotton Club in Atlantic City in 1963. And a star was truly born.
And Penny passed the burlesque art form on to her granddaughter, Augusta Avallone, aka Penny Starr Jr., who is herself a Burlesque Hall of Famer at age 52. The Starr ladies have even performed together in the past, so if the older Starr continues to bump and grind, she and Penny Jr. maybe try for AGT next year together. I have a feeling Simon wouldn’t mind.
In the meantime, the four aforementioned wildcards vying for a spot in the Season 17 live qualifiers are singers Ben Waites and Debbii Dawson, sword swallow Auzzy Blood and stand-up comic Jordan Conley. We’ll find out which of these acts will join this season’s six Golden Buzzer contestants (saxophonist Avery Dixon; singers Madison Taylor Baez, Sara James, and Lily Meola; Lebanese dance troupe Mayyas; and country trio Chapel Hart), along with the rest. of the just-announced top 54 below, when the live shows begin next Tuesday.
The America’s Got Talent Season 17 top 54 are: The 54 acts heading to the season 17 live shows are Acapop!, Aiko Tanaka, Amanda Mammana, Amanda Veranica & Her Incredible Friends, Amoukanama, Aubrey Burchell, Ava Swiss, Avery Dixon, Bayley Graham, Ben Lapidus, Blade 2 Blade, the Brown Brothers, Celia Munoz, Chapel Hart, Cline Twins, Don Milligan, Drake Milligan, Duo Rings, Freckled Zelda, Funkanometry, Fusion Japan, Harper, Hayden Kristal, Jack Williams, Jannick Holste, JoJo and Bri , Kristen Cruz, Kristy Sellars, Lace Larrabee, the Lazy Generation, Lee Collinson, Lily Meola, MPLUSPLUS, Madison Baez, Max Ostler, Mayyas, Merissa Beddows, Mervant Vera, MetaPhysic, Mia Morris, Mike E. Winfield, Mr. Pants, Nicolas RIBS, Oleksandr Yenivatov, the Pack Drumline, Players Choir, Sara James, Shu Takada, Stefanny & Yeeremy, Travis Japan, Urbancrew, Wyn Starks, XOMG POP!, and Yu Hojin.
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