Photo by Pop Culture Passionistas
We sat in on a panel discussion with the Howie, Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan, Nick Cannon and Executive Producers Jason Raff and Ken Warwick. Here’s what they had to say about changes this season, getting exposure on AGT, and break-out stars. Be sure to tune in to NBC on Tuesday, June 1 for the two-hour premiere starting at 8:00 PM.
Q: Any major format changes?
KEN: Obviously apart from the wonderful part of Howie, who is fantastic, there are the YouTube shows, which we're announcing today, is going to be the difference where one complete show is going to be dedicated purely to those – those crazy YouTube acts that you can tune in and see every day. Funny. I was just talking to Piers on the way in. It's going to be very interesting to see people who normally can sit in front of a camera at home and have no nerves to do anything. But when they walk out in front of a screaming audience, it's going to be very interesting to see exactly how they react. It should be good fun. And there's a couple of changes in the format. This year we see 12 acts when we get through to the finals and only four will go through, so the jeopardy is a bit higher than it's been before.
Q: When you younger, back in your day, would any of you have wanted to go on America's Got Talent as a contestant? What makes it unique as talent vehicle in your opinions?
PIERS: Howie actually does go on this year. He decided to get on stage with some weird acrobatic act in a sort of steel wheel. And I am gonna say, for a bloke who is as old as him, he can move pretty good. He started wheeling around like a hamster.
JASON: Is that a compliment?
MORGAN: Very supple limbs for an old guy.
HOWIE: I have supple limbs? The question is would we -- as a performer, certain times, kind of certain places are where you can get exposure. When I first came out, I was just getting on at The Comedy Store, and then you would get on The Tonight Show. I think America's Got Talent in America is the foremost place to get that kind of exposure. Even if you don't go all the way and win, you are getting exposure like you can't get any other place. So when you asked would I like to do it as a talent? I don't think there's any other choice. If you have the opportunity to get this kind of exposure on our show, you can only be propelled to something bigger than you already are. So I think it's a phenomenal vehicle for talent.
Q: Howie, since you're a judge on the show now – are you going to be -- are they going to have more comedy acts? More comedians doing stand-up?
HOWIE: No. I've been a fan for the last four seasons, and now it's an honor to be part of it. I don't think they're changing it up because I'm a judge. There are comedians on, but I think the beauty of this show, is that it's an open forum for everything, and that's what I love about this show is you can be a singer. You can be a dancer. You can be a mime. You can have a troupe. I am seeing things that I can't even put under a category. It's not dance. It's not music. It's just incredibly unique, and I don't think from as a viewer, now being on the show, there isn't more stand-up comedy. There are stand-up comics, but I don't think - that's not what this show is about. They don't want it leaning towards what I do.
PIERS: We had a dominatrix in Oregon who paints like Picasso. My favorite act. Really accommodating. Made me laugh.
HOWIE: That doesn't even answer your question, does it? He can't get it out of his mind. He said that every 15 minutes.
PIERS: Howie's problem, he can't control his buzzer.
HOWIE: I flail.
PIERS: He is completely out of control in the auditions. They had no idea what to do.
HOWIE: I wasn't buzzing. I flail. I flail, and that's how I talk, and I kept touching. I touch the buzzer.
JASON: Two-dozen times, yeah.
HOWIE: A day.
Q: Nick, you have this great talent for dealing with the contestants. You walk the line of being the host and being compassionate. Can you talk about that?
NICK: Absolutely. To me, I've been in the contestant's shoes before. I'm a product of talent shows, so I know those nervous jitters before you go on. I know it's really about being comfortable. So when it's an extraordinary ridiculous act or someone who actually has real talent, if I can just make them feel comfortable, the better they will perform. No matter how crazy they are, they will be even crazier if I say, "You're the best. You're great." It's all about just making the person comfortable and rooting for them. I'm always on the side of the talent.
Q: Nick, there was a moment in last year's show where there was this young girl, chubby girl, who was dancing.
NICK: Heavy B.
Q: And the judges were awful to her. I mean, it looked like she wanted to burst into tears -- Piers -- and run from the stage, but you came out, and you said, "Maybe you need a partner," and you danced with her. And although she was off the show -- she didn't have a lot of talent – she walked out feeling like a winner. Now, has anyone ever done that early in your career, given you a moment that lifted you up and made you feel like a winner even though things weren't going well?
NICK: Oh, yeah. Plenty of times. Not even necessarily early on in my career. I mean, a few years ago, I was on tour with Dave Chappelle, opening up for Dave Chappelle, and I hadn't made a nice little name for myself, and obviously Dave was huge at the time, and we were at a college show, and everybody knows who does stand-ups that college shows can be real rowdy, and they were there to see Dave, but I was still feeling myself, so I went out there and tried to do my typical jokes and kind of warming up the crowd. And it was just onslaught of boos. And it was just -- and that was the season where Dave Chappelle actual -- one of his jokes, one of his big bits on his show, the punch line -- pardon my French -- but "Fuck Nick Cannon."
So that's how I heard boos and that coming toward me the whole time, and they just thought it was hilarious. As soon as I stepped off stage, Dave was right there to kind of take me and say, "Look, man. We all have off nights, and it's all about timing. It's all about the way things are set up." And it was just so encouraging to know that he was right there. I mean, at first when I saw him, it was like "Oh, he saw me bomb." He goes, "I bomb all the time and they're coming here to see me." Always know when somebody's actually been through the same situation, it kind of lightens the blow a little bit. And it was luckily, too, as soon as he went out there, that same crowd that was screaming at me started screaming out "I'm Rick James, bitch" to him. So they were into screaming that night. So it was kind of cool.
PIERS: In relation to that dancer, whom I remember well, the problem was, Nick was even worse than she was.
NICK: On purpose.
PIERS: I'm not sure he helped at all. I think he made things ten times worse for her because it was a double. It was horrific.
SHARON: And I wasn't mean to her.
Q: Piers, over the last couple years Britain's Got Talent has helped out America's Got Talent a lot. First with the attention to Paul Potts and then the attention to Susan Boyle. Have ther been any pop-out YouTube sensations from Britain's Got Talent this year?
PIERS: Apparently there is -- only been two years running so far. Apparently there is an act that is popping on the Internet now, which is the gymnastic art group, which is very good. So that might be one to look out for. I think Simon's held back some of the better acts this year to run later in the series rather than stick all our eggs in the first basket.
Q: Not having the "Susan Boyle effect" this year, affect this show at all?
PIERS: No. I don't. I think all it's done is it's encouraged more and more people to come out. Certainly on the American show, we have had tens of thousands more people audition this year, and I'm sure the reason for that is the Susan Boyle factor. They're all at home thinking -- inspired to come and do it themselves. I think the talent level on the American show this year is way better then the British.
Q: How is Susan doing, by the way?
PIERS: Susan is having a nightmare, you know? She's sold 12 million albums. She's the biggest star in the world. She flies first class around the world performing to vast stadiums, and everyone loves her. So I keep reading what a nightmare she's having, and she keeps laughing at me saying she's living the dream, which is what she's doing. And she's the absolute embodiment of this show.
So is Terry Fator. The biggest star to ever come out of these shows was Terry Fator, who has $100 million act on the Vegas Strip, I mean, literally, one of the biggest stars in the world. The people talk more about Susan than him. To me, he's the one to emulate. To get your own show in a casino in Vegas for five years? That kind of money? Unbelievable. So people say the show produces stars. It produces megastars.
Q: Can you talk about some of the successes that have come out of the show, like the chicken catcher from last year?
PIERS: I think he's catching chickens. He's very good at it. We've had lots of acts. Remember, Susan didn't even win in Britain. She did incredibly well. America, that similar thing. A guy from -- Cas Haley who didn't win, Terry won. And he's been #1 on the iTunes reggae charts doing incredibly well. There are other -- all the winners -- Kevin Skinner did very well. These guys are -- you gotta remember where they come from. Kevin Skinner was a penniless -- he was an unemployed chicken catcher who sat on his porch, who appears on America's Got Talent with his baseball cap the wrong way around, unshaven, huge, oversized sweater, talking in a very hicksey way, and we were laughing at him, and he won $1 million, had a headline in Vegas, and is a household name in America.
Q: Does it seem kind counterintuitive to you that with all the great talent you've had in all the years you've been doing the show that there aren't more household names that have come out it?
SHARON: It's not so much as household names. The situation is if you can get another Terry Fator in the next five years, apart from that, the people who do come through, their lives change totally because a lot of them manage to earn their living now doing something they love, which is to entertain. So to go from a day job and have a dream, their dreams come true and it takes them to a better place in their life. So that's an amazing thing to do for somebody, to be able to earn your living at something which you love.
JASON: That's what Kevin is doing. He's actually recording an album now and touring around most of the middle of the country. Again Neal E. Boyd who specialized in opera, has it's following on the classical chart, so they're a little more niched. And our show being open to everyone, some of the people who win are a little more nich-y than, say, a pop show or American Idol.
Q: Following up on what you were talking about Terry Fator, ventriloquism, is that a uniquely American thing?
PIERS: We get them in England. They're just not very good. It's a very simple thing to judge. If their lips move, it's all over. Ninety percent of the ventriloquists we ever see move their lips. I can do that. Watch. Sharon, just move your mouth. This is my Sharon cat impression. Anyone can do it while moving their lips. Terry's genius is he can sing like Dean Martin through a turtle. It's unbelievable. I've never seen that before.
The big story of this year, apart from Howie joining the panel and being hilarious and irritating in equal measures, is this guy [Nick Cannon] is dying repeatedly. This guy is literally lucky to be alive. We had a cyclist who jumped up and down on his bike and missed his lower abdominal regions by two inches, which could have been very distressing to Mariah Carey. We've had Nick and another guy who was throwing playing cards at 100 miles an hour. Literally the fastest thrower of playing cards in the world. Cut two sticks of celery in half and missed his neck by an inch. He set fire to the guy's underpants, and literally nearly blew himself up in the process. And then in one bizarre scene, a quite slight lady asked Nick to jump up and down on her back and nearly paralyzed himself. So he nearly died and so did she. This guy is a walking miracle.
NICK: I don't know why they're trying to off me.
PIERS: I think NBC can't afford the firing and are trying to kill him. They're brutal over there. I tell you.