Save the date, May 29 sees the return of America’s Got Talent. It’s the biggest show on TV and on social media. When last season’s winner, Darci Lynne performed, over 300 million people on social media watched her get the Golden Buzzer, and that was just the first episode. It’s the number one show of the summer and talking to the judges, it’s easy to find out why.
I caught up with Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Simon Cowell at the recent NBC Summer Press Day to talk about judging America’s favorite reality competition series, now in its thirteenth season.
This last season was incredible, you had such outstanding acts. What has it been like for you?
Heidi: An emotional rollercoaster. It is an emotional rollercoaster. From laughing to crying to being amazed, to being wowed and to being scared. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Howie: It really is. I think that’s the success of our show because it’s real humans from all over the world and they have had hardships, faced them. I don’t think any other show tells a better story than what we tell as far as what they’re facing, what their hopes and dreams are and we go along.
We go on that emotional rollercoaster with them. It’s wonderful, it’s scary and it’s exhausting.
Heidi: It’s funny.
Simon, you’ve hosted Britain’s Got Talent, what made you say yes to America’s Got Talent?
Simon: I felt the show after seeing a taping, something wasn’t quite connecting with me. I don’t know what it was but I thought I’d like to do the American show having done the British show. I only wanted to do it for a year to see what it’s like and I ended up having the best time. I don’t think I made that much difference.
For me, it was interesting doing the show as the Amercian show and British show have the same kind of principal. Being open-minded, allowing anyone in the world and any age to do something that was fun.
American Idol was restrictive. You had to be 16-29 and that was boring, it was fun again and there was no expectation. The guys are fun to work with.
It seems like a great panel to be a part of.
Simon: You can’t take it that seriously. When I first started, winning was everything, if you won, you were going to be a star. Over the past few years, you see all these people who enter the show and if you win nothing happens, that would frustrate me.
What does it feel like when you have to make those cuts?
Heidi: It’s hard. The middle rounds are the hardest. When it’s a free for all in the beginning and we cut hundreds of acts, it’s easier. We either go for the best of the best and sometimes we go for mediocre because we’re hoping or guessing that maybe they’ll get better in the second round.
In the second round, they’re top notch. We’re cutting a lot of good people and we’re cutting really good people, but someone has to go.
Howie: It feels like the Sophie’s Choice of unscripted entertainment. It is because you get attached to these people. They’re like our children.
Heidi: They’re deserving. You have to say no to them, but you can’t take anyone.
Howie: You might like one act over this act, and it’s apples and oranges, you have a little kid singer against a fire walker. Who goes home? The fire walker who risked her life? Or the girl singer? Someone goes home.
Simon: I get frustrated from the first opportunity to the live show and they have that opportunity and they don’t take a risk. I’m going to give them more advise from now through to the live show. I’m going to say, in principle, you can do whatever you want. We’ll make it better.
Darcy was outstanding. So touching. You saw her final performance, what was that like to see her go all the way and win?
Heidi: Angelica (Hale) was amazing too. They gave everything and they gave more than most adults do. They won because people are so amazed at young people making it.
Howie: That moment is a very emotional rollercoaster but the rollercoaster is the height of emotions. when she’s chosen and there’s that confetti and the tears are flowing. It’s a moment.
Heidi: Even when we push the golden buzzer, it’s great to see that moment. I get shaky before I push it. It goes to you and I’m going and going and I get shaky for them.
Howie: because it means to much. Those moments get hundreds of hits.
Heidi: We’ve made the New York City cabs.
The show is so popular because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
Heidi: I had someone almost kill me. I’m surprised I’m still alive. Someone shot a bow and arrow at me, that was frightening.
Howie: The word surprise is probably the headline of the upcoming season because you will be surprised by so many. Again, apples and oranges. There’s a dance crew and it’s not like anything we’eve ever seen. From the young kids, we were surprised so many times.
Heidi: It’s about passion. They give everything to get to the next round. There’s so many of them. It’s a two-hour jam-packed Tuesday of talent.
The beginning stages are hilarious. You see some people come on and think “Really?”
What’s the highlight of the show?
Howie: It’s always the kids.
Heidi: It’s always the kids. I have four kids myself and I think of how determined they are. Everyone has to go to school. My daughter spends fifteen hours a week doing her dance routine and you think of these kids and the hours they put in. We have a ventriloquist, but these girls that do aerobics, contortionists. They spend hours of training.
Howie: The most life inspiring story was Kechi. She was the young girl from Africa. The plane crash survivor. It made all of us cry. How many times have you not shown up for work because of something silly? Here’s a woman who is so strong and brave and teaches us what life and strength are all about. She teaches us what hope and dreams are. It’s so much deeper than just singing a song. She will always be one of the most beautiful stories.
Simon, whose story touched you the last season?
Simon: Ketchi who survived the plane crash. When I first met her, she was so shy and insecure. She was ok when she first sang. I spoke to her on the night of the final and asked her what had changed and she said her confidence. She had the support and just as a human and what it did to her as a human, what it did to her in terms of that support and confidence, she was a great role model. When you’re feeling down about yourself, if she can survive a plane crash, you can survive anything and that’s how I felt.
We meet a lot of whiney people who complain about everything. They’re monsters. You meet someone like her who went through so much. She’s a great leveler.
How have American audiences reacted to you, Simon Cowell?
Simon: I’ve always gotten on well with everyone I’ve met here. They have a good sense of humor. I think they appreciate it when you’re honest with them. They pretend to be shocked. I notice when we do the taping, the audience will boo before I’ve even talked. I get it. I think the energy is good and the way the show works at the moment is you watch the news and it’s the most depressing thing in the world.
You watch this show and you see normal people with normal jobs, they have these great talents and want to be even better. It’s feelgood. It’s like a happy pill.
What makes it fun for you?
Howie: We love each other and look forward to working with each other?
Heidi: How horrible would it be to spend all those hours together and not like each other? You heard all these stories about judges on different shows. That would be awful We have fun with each other. We tease each other in the most fun way.
Howie: what you see on our panel is what you would see even without cameras rolling. We respect each other, but we don’t agree with each other, it’s not about us. It really is about what is happening on stage. the emotion that emulates from the stage is what keeps the audience going. Whether you are a grandfather or grandchild, there’s something coming up for you?
Simon: Compared to other shows, it’s so much fun. I said to someone the other day, we have performing cats and we’re sitting there as a judging panel like we know what makes a good performing cat or not. That cracks me up and that’s what makes it fun, you just don’t know what’s coming up.
I don’t know what’s going to happen on the day, and after Susan Boyle all those years ago. We were all sneery and she went on to win.
With this show, if you do win, you have a better shot, you can go to Vegas and it can change your life and I like that feeling.
America’s Got Talent returns on May 29.