Besides his soulful voice, the thing that makes 32-year-old Ira, an Astoria native, stand out from all the other singers and competitors is that he is a puppet. During his performances, the audience never sees or meets the puppeteer.
Before taking the stage at Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday night for the popular NBC reality competition show’s round two of live shows, Ira hopped on the subway — with his mom Miriam, also a puppet – and took a trip to Astoria, a neighborhood he called home for about 29 years.
During their visit to Queens, both puppets stopped for some pancakes at the Bel Aire Restaurant & Diner, located at 31-91 21st St., and then walked around the streets and were stopped by a cop — also a puppet — who said Ira was stealing America’s heart. They also visited an old landlord, who asked for some rent they owed him, before walking off into the sunset thinking of what they could spend $1 million on.
According to Ira, he grew up in Astoria and then decided to make the move to Los Angeles with his mother, who wanted to chase her dreams of being a singer. However, the dream then became Ira’s and after just singing as a favorite pastime, he decided to take it to the big stage.
For his performance on the live show, Ira stepped it up a notch and took the stage not only with his mother, who played a saxophone and was whisked away inside a clam by a group of muscular men, but with an ensemble of puppet dancers and musicians all to the tune of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.”
The act featured a nautical theme with Ira singing on top of a ship surrounded by waves, dolphins and mist.
His performance was met with praise from judges Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Mel B — the former Spice Girl who melted Ira’s heart since day one, when he dedicated his audition performance to her.
“These guys are fun and we want to have fun on a show like ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Stern said. “You took a guy like me and made me like what essentially looks like an old smelly sock and I’m in love with an old smelly sock.”
Mel B, who during Ira’s first performance didn’t see the potential in the puppet, couldn’t hold back her love for the act on Tuesday night.
“The smile on my face did not leave my face one single bit for one second. You’re entertaining and you’re adorable and you’re winning me over all the time more and more,” Mel B said right before winking at Ira.
Although the judges loved Ira and his performance, it is now America’s turn to decide if the beloved puppet and his mom will hit the stage again.
Watch to see if Ira makes it through Wednesday night on NBC at 8 p.m.