Though the announcement of his position was initially surprising (and controversial) Howard Stern became a wonderful addition to the judging panel on America’s Got Talent. The self-titled America’s judge (though he the only 1 of 3 America’s Got Talent judges to have been born and raised in America) Howard Stern was a breath of fresh air for the reality competition show.
So when it was announced that Stern was leaving in season 10, it was a cause for some concern. Yet Stern’s replacement, Simon Cowell, is everything the radio host was and more as a judge. In just one episode of season 11, Cowell has proved that he is everything that America’s Got Talent needed, and was missing, as the show heads into it’s second decade on the air.
The Father of the Sensation
Though game shows have existed since TV first became popular and reality shows have existed, in one form or another, for years, American Idol really started the modern reality talent show boom. Though other similar shows predate it, American Idol (spinning off of Britain’s Pop Idol) began the trend and the face of the show was Simon Cowell. More than Ryan Seacrest or any of his fellow judges, Simon began the voice and arguably the biggest star of American Idol.
So much so that every reality show that followed American Idol, be it Dancing with the Stars or America’s Next Top Model figured they needed their own “Simon.” A harsh, usually British (because centuries after the American Revolution, Americans are still scared of the English), brutally honest judge who never held back with their criticism. While some of the new “Simon’s” were a success, Dancing with the Stars‘ Len Goodman comes to mind, most of them have been an utter failure.
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Nowhere was the Simon mimicking more obvious and annoying than on America’s Got Talent. When the producers of the AGT franchise brought the show to America, they decided that Piers Morgan would be the perfect Simon type judge. The problem with Piers Morgan is his defining characteristic is that he is aggressively not Simon Cowell. There is a fine line between hard to please and genuinely unpleasant to watch. Piers was latter and continues to be to this day. Piers Morgan was rude and it was off-putting. Morgan’s sole purpose on the show seemed to shock and annoy people. By his initial appearance on America’s Got Talent Simon proves that he is not intention in judging nor, honestly, who he is as a person.
Simon is not just the mean judge. He’s the honest judge and nearly everything he says is done with a sardonic and dry wit. Simon never purposely tries to attack the contestants. He’s a bit of jerk, to be sure, but often that comes from well-intentioned ribbing and not a systematic attack of the person on stage. It does take quite a bit to earn Simon’s praise but once it happens it is fully earned. The best thing about Simon though is he’s just as entertaining to judge people as the people performing.
Take for example, Charles and Rose from the season 11 premiere. It’s obvious that no matter who they were performing for Rose would have been the best kind of train wreck. The 60+ woman gyrating and stripping to her husband’s terrible Elvis impersonation will always been quasi-interesting but it is only enhanced by Simon’s uncontrollable giggles as he watches the two weirdos do whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.
The Right Chemistry
While it is certainly true that Howard fit on America’s Got Talent, and clearly got along with his fellow judges, there was bit of imbalance. Though Howard and Howie sometimes butted heads, more often than not they would agree on one thing. Both Howard and Howie enjoy the juvenile and “stupid” acts. Whenever America’s Got Talent would see the likes of The Regurgitator or some of the more gross-out acts Howie and Howard would fall all over themselves. Now Mel B and Heidi would join in on the action from time to time but for it often felt like the judging panel became less of panel and more just the head of a frat house.
Simon though is pretty much the exact opposite of Howie in all respects. Whether you love him or hate him, Howie is often the loudest and biggest character on the America’s Got Talent panel. Howie needs someone or something to keep him in check before the entire show gets overrun with his inane jokes and bits. Simon is the perfect anchoring point for Howie. They balance each other out. While Howie is loud and hyperactive, Simon is much more quiet and witty.
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This is not even to mention Simon’s chemistry with fellow judges Heidi Klum and Mel B which is equally excellent. As mentioned, Simon is a bit of a jerk and that clearly comes out in his interactions with Mel B. However, while someone like Piers Morgan teasing his fellow coaches often went to an ugly place, Simon making fun of Mel or on occasion Heidi, never feels truly mean-spirited.
The Benny Hill-esque sequence that closed out the season 11 premiere was silly and stupid but it was also evident that Simon was really more amused than annoyed by the whole ordeal. Simon is able to strike the perfect balance for America’s Got Talent. He doesn’t take things overly serious like Piers Morgan but neither does he become quite as absurd as Howard Stern.
On reality talent shows, it is the judging panel and returning talent that carry the show much more than whoever is performing for the prize of the season. America’s Got Talent has what Simon’s last American venture, The X Factor, was missing. The judging panel has the necessary modicum of respectability but they also enjoy (or appear to enjoy) working together as much as we enjoy watching them. Simon is the perfect addition to America’s Got Talent because between Piers Morgan and Howard Stern, he is who the show has been looking for all along.
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But what do you think? Did you enjoy Simon’s debut on America’s Got Talent? Is he the perfect addition to the show or do you miss Howard Stern or even Piers Morgan?
America’s Got Talent season 11 airs Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC.
(Images and video courtesy of NBC)