America’s Got Talent is back on NBC

Here’s an interesting question to debate with your friends: Is it the performers or the judges that make a talent competition successful?

Photo courtesy of NBC

From l, “America’s Got Talent” judges Howie Mandel, Mel B, Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, and host Nick Cannon.

As it heads towards its big finale on June 18, NBC’s singing contest The Voice is enjoying a ratings bonanza thanks to the likability factor and chemistry of the judging foursome. Adam Levine, Usher, Shakira, and Blake Shelton have the added duty of being coaches to the contestants, and the star-mentors add gusto to the show when they flaunt their competitive spirits. That sometimes overshadows the songbirds who are under their wings, but it makes for exciting television.

Also exciting is the return of America’s Got Talent on NBC Tuesdays, with the variety show hoping to add to the proud Peacock Network’s ratings resurgence. Now in its eighth season, the summer series showcases the hottest performers from across the country.

What I like about it is that the talent search has brought the variety format back to the forefront of entertainment. The show is truly diverse and is open to acts of all ages. It is a true celebration of the American spirit, featuring a colorful mixture of hopeful stars, including singers, dancers, comedians, contortionists, impressionists, jugglers, magicians, and ventriloquists. They all have a chance to strut and perform on stage hoping to win America’s hearts and the $1 million prize.

The America’s Got Talent judges will also share the spotlight. This year, making up the interesting mix of judges are supermodel, designer, producer, and TV host Heidi Klum; high-octane entertainer and former Spice Girl Mel B; returning outspoken radio personality and author Howard Stern; and comedian Howie Mandel. Always acting like the contestants’ best friend is host Nick Cannon.

Mandel explains that everyone on the panel adds to the show. “This has now gone to a new level in so many ways,” he says. “First, for our panel, you bring people from different backgrounds. Obviously, Mel B. being one of the biggest pop stars as a Spice Girl, has that background in marketing, in music, and she sees things differently than I would, or Howard would. Heidi has been in fashion and entertainment with an international view. So we have more opinions, more critiques with four judges. And this year we’re at Radio City Music Hall. They are actually going to go for it and perform on stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. This will make it bigger, better, and more exciting than any season we’ve ever had.”

Last year was Howard Stern’s first time as a judge and he says he had a great time. “I didn’t know what to expect, but Howie and Sharon (Osbourne) were very gracious and welcoming, along with Nick, so it made it easy. And we had such great talent. No one would have predicted a dog act would win, but all who made it to the final four were great. I thought Tom Cotter, the comedian proved himself to be a top-notch entertainer. The guy with the earth harp put together a band with it. As a judge, you look for something so different that can excite America and become an international superstar. That’s my goal to find a breakthrough act, and I know the other judges join me in taking the job quite seriously.”

Nick Cannon as the host has become the heart of the show as he turns into sort of a cheerleader for the contestants encouraging them to do their best, or giving them a shoulder to cry on when they fail. He says it’s because he has empathy for them “because I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve been in entertainment since I was a child. I’ve been in every type of church talent show and every level of comedy clubs. So I know how they feel when it’s their big moment. I’ve gotten standing ovations, and I’ve fallen flat on my face. I can relate when it doesn’t go well. I know the hurt, but honestly, this show is all about having fun. So before they go on stage, I try to remind the talent to have the best time they can possibly have. Even if they are horrible, I tell them ‘this is your big moment, so have fun.’”