There’s nothing better than seeing homegrown talent take center stage! With Season 11 of America’s Got Talent premiering tonight on NBC at 8/7c, you can imagine we were pretty excited to sit down with returning judge Howie Mandel and none other than AGT creator Simon Cowell to chat about the upcoming season. Find out what makes these judges tick, and make sure to tune into the season premiere tonight at 8/7c on NBC.
Did you ever imagine yourself being a judge on America’s Got Talent?
Yes and no. I wanted to, but then I thought it’s a bit weird if I hire myself. So I waited to be asked. And I waited. And nobody asked me. And eventually they did. When you’re in the audience you want to be at that desk so you can do something. So to answer your question, I kind of had a feeling I might end up here.
The Got Talent format has worked around the globe. What do you think makes it so successful?
I don’t know actually. I used to like these variety shows in America years ago. I liked the fact that they were more than singers. And when we started these singing shows, there were just tons of copycat shows, always singers. And I literally used to yearn for like dancing dogs and stuff like that. In the end I thought, well if no one else is going to make it we might as well make it ourselves—year by year it just got bigger and bigger.
Are you shocked by the success of it all?
No, and actually sometimes the best things are things you don’t plan out that much. The show developed into something else—into something more. But the good thing is, it relies on people turning out—and where we got lucky, is that all over the world brilliant people turned out. In this show you can have an elephant dancing or a cat playing the guitar. You just never know what’s going to happen.
You were part of the judges’ table in the U.K. What’s been different so far in America?
The crowds are vicious here. In England we give them about 10 seconds before we boo them. In America, you get about half a second. And people think I’m the mean one! But that’s what happens when you allow the audience to be what we call the 5th judge. They really take it seriously. And they boo you by the way, if they disagree with you, they literally scream in your face. I used to think America was polite, not anymore!
How has your style changed through the years when it comes to judging?
I always find it very funny what we do. When somebody really bad comes on, and they’re really bad, I sit there thinking, “are you listening to what I’m listening to?” I find it hysterical! And then I think it’s kind to say to them, “Honestly don’t waste your time. It’s hard enough if you’re good, it’s impossible if you’re awful.”
Why will this be the best season of America’s Got Talent yet?
I can’t say whether it will be yet. I have a feeling it could be fantastic. You’re going to see a story develop. It’s definitely getting more competitive. That’s the one thing I can do, make people want it more. I don’t want somebody who just wants to be on TV. I want somebody who wants to win. That’s the whole American thing. You’ve got to find winners. The contestants should hate each other and they should all be fighting for the million dollar prize, and that makes it exciting.
What makes America’s Got Talent so special—why have you stuck around for so long?
We feel we’re on the greatest show on earth! It’s the number ONE show on television in the summer, and it has variety unlike any of the other talent shows which predominantly focus on singing or dancing. We can see anything! Just like the audience at home who are tuning in by the millions, it holds our attention because it’s fun to watch. We feel entertained and lucky. When you’re in a good atmosphere, good things happen. People like to watch! We‘re having fun and the more fun we’re having the more fun the audience seems to have.
What’s your criteria for a truly remarkable act? What in your opinion gives an act that “wow factor?”
Being surprised! Doing something that I’ve never seen before or doing something I’ve seen before in a unique original way that has never been done before… or been done before by someone you wouldn’t expect doing it! So ultimately it’s the element of surprise! In this world, and this goes for anybody not just me as judge, we all have access to the Internet and 600 channels, so in order for us to really go “wow” and stand up you have to really deliver! I have to tell you this season there’s a lot of delivery! People are delivering AMAZING wow moments! There are more than a handful of them.
In your opinion what does it take to win America’s Got Talent?
Well I think ultimately is the whole package! I think you need the skill and talent to do something really physically, but if you’re preforming something, passion can override the raw talent. Talent is subjective and it’s all about taste! So if your passion accentuates your performance, that can also make you a winner.
Do you think your standup or your past experiences have helped you prepare to be a judge on the show?
Well, standup wasn’t the only thing that prepared me for it, but being in the business sure did though. Everyone on the panel has been in the business well over thirty years. Anybody who knows anything about this business knows that as much as you’re applauded, and as much as you’re paid, you’re ten times more rejected! Whether is somebody writing or saying something negative about you—or people saying no and treating you unfairly. After this many years in the business, I don’t think there’s anybody in our panel that doesn’t have skin thick enough to just have fun.