As it enters its seventh season, many aspects of America's Got Talent remain nauseatingly the same. The audience over-reacting, and its love of chanting things, Nick Cannon coming out on stage to wrangle some more attention, Howie Mandel's potty jokes--it's all expected at this point. We've even come to expect a few unlikely heroes, ordinary looking people with extraordinary voices, grandmas doing something outside their expected abilities, street artists getting their big break. But one thing is fresh, new, and exciting this season: Howard Stern.
Initially, I was concerned that with Piers Morgan leaving the "serious judge" spot, things would only stay the same with any replacement. But Howard is a welcome addition to the AGT judges panel. Piers tended to focus more on his mock rivalry with Howie, which got old before it even began. He also REALLY liked a few special types of acts: dance groups, children ballroom dancing, and anything else humorless and fuddy-duddy-ish. But now Piers Morgan is gone, Howie has no one to play pranks on, and Howard Stern is keeping it remarkably real.
One of my least favorite aspects of America's Got Talent has always been the insincerity, and the mockery of people doing things in earnest. The audience and judge response tends to vacillate between two extremes: "This is what makes this show/America so great" and "You are terrible so we will ridicule you needlessly." We either chant "Vegas" or hold our arms over our head as X's and boo. Nick and Howie tend to relish the bad auditions, stretching them out needlessly, voting "yes" just to annoy the others or make fun of the person, and taking advantage of the comedy of the situation for some more attention. It makes me uncomfortable. But Howard Stern doesn't have time for all the bullsh*t; he just cuts straight to the chase.
He became my favorite judge the show has ever had the moment he told someone Howie was encouraging, "You're terrible, and you know that, right? You have to know that." It was exactly what the show needed. Sure, he'll play into some of the on-stage antics, but mainly he'll offer auditioners the courtesy of his honesty. He doesn't personally like dance groups, but can look at things objectively and move them on to the Vegas round. When something is bad, he doesn't waste his time egging them on. Honesty is what was missing, and it makes the show infinitely more watchable.
Also, Howard Stern is funny. Not funny in the way that Howie tries to be, but legitimately funny. He has made a living interacting with people and making it interesting, and it shows in the way he handles all the auditioners. It's fun for us to watch, too. His jokes are funny, and I particularly enjoyed when he called that one kid in the kazoo choir his son. He builds rapport quickly, and treats the judges as equals while neutralizing the more annoying aspects of Howie as a TV personality. It is all working!
What do you think? Is Howard Stern improving AGT or making it worse? What does this mean for Howie?
(photos courtesy of NBC)