Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the dance team's second audition.
I'll never forget the first time I learned how to do a jump-split.
It was my freshman year at Southlake Carroll High School, way back in 2002, and I was at my first practice after making the junior varsity Emerald Belles dance team. My coach was a former varsity Belle herself, and she knew the JV squad was essentially boot camp for the next year's tryouts. And when I made the varsity team my sophomore year, I learned other tricks like the death drop and flying splits.
But the jump-split — that's the Emerald Belles' signature.
The shock and awe of the spectacle never seems to lose its edge. And it certainly didn't when the whole country got to see the Emerald Belles in action on the TV show America's Got Talent.
The team returned to the AGT stage for their second audition on July 16 in hopes of making another lasting impression and securing a spot on the show's finale, which will be broadcast live on Sept. 8.
The team squeezed its 76 members onto the stage for a performance that garnered mixed reviews from the judges. Simon Cowell was a vocal fan of the routine and country singer Brad Paisley, who was a guest judge, gave it a standing ovation. Gabrielle Union commended the Belles on improving from their last performance.
"I definitely think you're worth fighting for," she said.
Howie Mandel, who criticized the team's first audition in June, disagreed, saying "I don't think it was enough." But he was overruled.
The Emerald Belles were awarded one of eight spots in the live season finale, the judges announced at the end of the show.
Take a look at the awe-inspiring performance:
Melissa Page, who's coached the Southlake team for 22 years, says America's Got Talent reached out to her after seeing this high-kick routine that went viral in 2017. It now has 3.7 million views on YouTube. The Belles flew out to audition for five days and were fine tuning up to the last minute.
"The craziest part about it was me figuring out how to make this work on the stage," says Page. "I have so many kids... I knew the stage dimensions, but once we got there I had to tweak things because we didn't exactly fit."
The Emerald Belles wowed three out of four judges with their first performance (above). The AGT judges commended the team on being in-sync and a cohesive squad, but Mandel was not impressed, saying they didn't live up to Radio City Music Hall's famous Rockettes.
"I wanted to say, 'Don't compare us to the Rockettes.' Those are professionals. These are high school kids,'" says Page.
Cowell struck a more positive note.
"There's one reference point right now, which is the Rockettes," he said, "which tells me someone new needs to take their place."
Tune in Sept. 8 to see if the Emerald Belles can high-kick their way into winning the competition. Until then, check out that viral video that caught the attention of America's Got Talent: