We have reached a crucial point in American history, we are nearing the finale of America’s Got Talent, where the top four acts will compete for one last time for the million-dollar prize and a headlining act on the America’s Got Talent tour. Paul Revere’s ride has nothing on Jeremy Van Schoonhoven’s ride, and one might think Isaac Newton discovered gravity just so that some fraternity brothers could fight it. From the shot heard ’round the world to the voice heard ’round the world (I’m talking about Jackie Evancho), these are great moments in history (that I have now bastardized). And now, before history is made once again, we get some more details on this season of America’s Got Talent straight from the horses’ mouths.
America’s Got Talent judges Howie Mandel and Piers Morgan don’t agree on much. But when they joined forces for a media conference yesterday, they were able to agree that Jackie Evancho is amazing. In case you can’t get enough Howie and Piers (don’t worry, the bickering is limited) or if you want the inside scoop from two of the judges, here’s what they had to say.
Howie, how has your first season on the judges’ panel been?
Howie: “This has been an amazing experience for me and as I’ve said many times before, you know, I have been a huge fan of this show and have watched every episode, you know, from the get-go. So to be here in person and to be part of it is like a dream come true. It really doesn’t feel like a job.
. . . When I’m playing Las Vegas I’ll go to the lounges and see different acts and, you know,
if something is strange I seem to gravitate toward that . . . I have a wide array of tastes as pointed out very bluntly by my partner here Piers.
And this has been the beauty of this particular year and Piers told me this, he’s been there since the beginning. I think we have seen things this year that we have never seen before. It’s got a higher caliber of talent and it’s got – and more exciting things, people like Fighting Gravity. You know, these are acts that I have never seen and can’t compare them to anything because I’ve never seen anything like it before. So I am surprised each and every day, I’m excited each and every day, and I can’t wait like a fan to go to the show. And the fact that I’m allowed to speak out loud — well I was on my couch but now that the fans can hear what I say is kind of like an honor.”
Piers, on Britain’s Got Talent the winners have been a little more varied. On America’s Got Talent, except for Terry on Season 2, it’s had more of a history of having singers win. Why do you think that is and with the singing talent this year do you think a singer could take that win again?
Piers: “I think though you have to understand that there are a lot more singers out there than there are variety acts. I mean, everyone can sing. Not everyone can do what Fighting Gravity do or not everyone can do trick cycling. So, you know, these are specialty acts, the variety acts, and you’re just lucky some years that you get really good ones as you were with Terry Fator.
This year I think – I said to Howie, you know, I’ve done this for five years. I think the overall talent is better than I’ve ever known it before by a long way. I mean, both semifinals were of a standard that we would normally expect in the finals. So it’s very exciting, it’s wide open. I think there are any one of five or six acts that could win this year.”
What was your biggest “wow” moment of the season?
Piers: “I think my favorite was actually the very first time that Howie had to give a critique of an act because he had been talking this great game about how he had watched it at home and we judges always got it wrong and thank goodness he had arrived to save the show from ignominy and failure.
And then of course the very first act came up and Howie was quite critical and suddenly 3500 people booed him so loudly I thought his eardrums were going to blow off. And in that moment I saw a look on Howie Mandel’s face of complete and utter horror and panic and I would pay good money to watch that again.”
Howie: “But wow moments, you know, a couple, you know, and I’ll use just names. Wow moments are, you know, Poppycock, wow moments are Jackie Evancho, wow moments are Fighting Gravity, wow moments are Michael Grasso a couple of times and, you know, there’s a lot.”
Piers: “I think my favorite wow moment was when a guy came on, I think it may have been New York, and announced that his act was going to be a surprise. And he then revealed he had strapped gunpowder to his underpants and basically blew up his lower abdominal region live on stage. Now you don’t get that every day on American Idol.”
Howie: “They want a ‘wow’ moment not an ‘ow’ moment.”
Piers, how has this season’s judges’ table been different without David Hasselhoff?
Piers: “Well obviously David was incredibly irritating and to my utter disbelief Howie Mandel has been even more irritating so from my point of view I thought it was sort of out of the frying pan and straight into the fire. And it’s a shame because I loved Howie on Deal or No Deal, he’s a lovely guy, very warm, humorous, and he’s turned out to be like my sort of the worst nightmare older brother.”
Piers, Jackie Evancho is a growing sensation and the media is going crazy, often comparing her to Susan Boyle. Do you think that right now the pressure is building more on Jackie than some of the other contestants?
Piers: “Yeah I think it is. She seems to be handling it pretty well. I mean, the reality is you talk about ‘wow’ moments, I will never forget when Jackie came out of the YouTube show so we had never even seen her audition and we suddenly heard this 10 year old girl sing like a 40 year old operatic diva.
It was quite extraordinary — one of the most extraordinary moments I’ve ever had on either the British show or the American one and certainly in terms of impact right up there with Susan Boyle. The difference is I think that Jackie is so young that a lot of this just kind of washes over her head. She doesn’t seem to be crippled by nerves.
I think in Susan’s case she was 47 years old and she was old enough and experienced enough to know how big it was and the pressure really did get to her whereas I think Jackie at the moment thinks it’s all great fun and she’s loving it.
And the interesting comparison again is of course Jackie is probably favorite right now but so was Susan Boyle. And one of the problems of being favorite is you have to keep at the top and Susan, people forget that she actually came second on Britain’s Got Talent, she never won. So Jackie may still not win despite being the red hot favorite but even if she doesn’t I think like Susan she is going to have a fantastic career.”
What’s your take on Michael Grimm?
Howie: “Okay well personally it’s my favorite music, he’s got my favorite – that’s the album I would buy, that’s the CD, that’s the music that I would download so he’s my favorite. He’s also very low key as you mentioned and I don’t know if that’s going to serve him, you know, against people who are a lot more splashy and memorable and talked about the next day.
. . . He is my favorite but, you know, it’s hard when you juxtapose that with somebody who is, you know, dropping off three stories or blowing something up. It’s just – it’s like comparing apples and oranges and I like to say we don’t know whether America wants an apple or an orange right now.”
Piers: “I think in Michael Grimm’s case he hasn’t changed at all. He knows what he is, he knows what he wants to be like, he knows the music he wants to play, and it’s very impressive to see that kind of consistency. His problem is that until Jackie Evancho came along, you know, he was probably the singing favorite certainly. Now he’s got this young wonder kid and he’s got Prince Poppycock who is coming up the rails in a way that reminds me of Terry Fator when, you know, you don’t really think much about him and then suddenly you realize everyone’s talking about him and he might be a dark horse to win.”
What do you make of Jackie Evancho and the rumors that her voice might be fake?
Howie: “It’s too good to be true, that’s what people are, you know, really saying, that it’s really too good to be true. You are so perfect and so wonderful that people have never heard a talent like this if it isn’t mechanically produced. So you are that good that people don’t think it’s real. You’ve got to take that as a compliment. And I do even for the show. When people are buzzing about it and talking about it and there’s a controversy it’s not boring TV. Even if you don’t love that kind of music you can’t deny that is perfection.”
Piers: “Absolutely extraordinary. I mean, you shut your eyes and it could be a 40-year-old woman. She has an extraordinary tone and pitch to her voice and a breathtaking quality and, you know, she’s a very, very rare discovery. I mean, I was talking to Simon Cowell about it, he obviously exec produces the show and he was saying that in terms of her potential you’ve got to say that Jackie, you know, she could be a singing superstar for the next 40, 50 years. So in terms of her potential she could be one of the great if not the greatest breakout discoveries that any talent show has ever produced. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to win because in a talent competition it can be a lot more than just about being favorite and having a great voice. And I think a lot of these acts in the final top ten have their own followings now and I know it’s going to be close. It’s going to be closer than people think.”
What do you think about children getting into “show biz”?
Howie: “You know, you see – if Jackie and the other children, if they have really good supportive home lives and loving parents and their priorities are all in order I have no issues whatsoever with any child going into the business as long as the business isn’t what defines the child.”
Piers: “I look at Jackie Evancho and I see a child of extraordinary self confidence who loves performing on stage but I’ve seen people three times her age crippled by nerves who find the whole thing just too unbearable. So it’s nothing to do with age, it’s all to do with an ability of a human being to withstand pressure of performing.”
What’s the difference between the talent factor and actually being able to sustain a Vegas show?
Piers: “I think they could all sustain a Vegas show. If anyone has been to Vegas, you know, as Howie said you walk around the lounges at night and you’ll see great singers, you’ll see trick cyclists, you’ll see great dance troupes, you know, you’ll see unusual variety acts. The whole point of Vegas is anything goes in terms of talent.
And so this idea that any of our top ten couldn’t hold down a headline act, I’m sure they could. I mean, they’re going to get huge attention. The competition this year is better than ever and I think that – I’m absolutely convinced that four or five of these acts will end up in Vegas anyway. It’s that good.”
Howie: “Yeah and it doesn’t have to be Vegas, just that we’re looking for headlining acts, somebody who would headline anywhere that you would go see in concert.”
Piers, you mentioned that it’s going to be a lot closer than people think. Do you know what the vote totals are?
Piers: “I’ve got a little idea of how it’s been going and that’s why I said what I said. It’s not a runaway horse by any means. And the reason for that is because the talent is so varied and so good at such a high level this year, you know, lots of individual acts are getting lots of votes and so it’s a lot closer than it has been in previous seasons when there has been one or two standout favorites. I mean, last year Kevin Skinner won by a mile, an absolute mile. This year it’s going to be a lot closer.”
So there you have it, this year it really could be anyone’s game. There’s a lot of buzz going around about Jackie Evancho, and a fair amount surrounding Fighting Gravity, Prince Poppycock, Studio One Young Beast Society, and Jeremy VanSchoonhoven. Who do you think will take home the win?
(image courtesy of NBC)