"America's Got Talent" kicked off this past week with the usual lounge singers, baton twirler, an uncooked chicken hooked to marionette strings (seriously!) and burlesque dancers. And, considering the last two seasons were huge successes for NBC during the summer ratings doldrums, it's only fitting that the creation of American Idol's Simon Cowell returns for its third season as outrageous as ever.
Though not much has changed in terms of the format of "America's Got Talent," there is no better evidence that this competition show is an effective launch pad for future stars. Terry Fator, the ventriloquist/impressionist/singer who won last summer's competition, has reportedly signed a $100 million dollar deal to perform at The Mirage Casino and Resort in Las Vegas for the next five years. Not too shabby, huh?
With host Jerry Springer and judges David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan all returning for the new season, "America's Got Talent" takes pride in waving it's cheese factor flag high and strong. In fact, the more outrageous the act, the more the audience loves this reality competition.
Springer and Osbourne took time out from their busy judging schedules to talk about the contestants who have stolen their hearts, their own levels of talent and how technology has had effect on the television variety show. It's obvious from their jovial good humor that they're having a blast with the show and the wide array of performers parading before them.
When asked about the horrifically bad performers that they've seen while doing the show, Springer and Osbourne both have nothing but admiration to shower on them. "I don't know that [the contestants] have the X factor," Osbourne said. "But they've got an awful lot of courage to go up and do what they do because I don't think that people realize how hard it is to go up on a stage and perform in front of, you know, three people on a panel." Springer recounts a contestant from last summer, Shakira, who was a female impersonator of (you guessed it) Shakira and how he went pretty far in the competition. "I realized that here was a kid who probably his whole life has been teased, never was very popular in school, the whole bit. And all of a sudden, for one moment in his life, holy cow, everybody is paying attention."
Osbourne actually sounded as if she had a bit of remorse when she pointed out that, unlike host Springer, the judges are not allowed much interaction with the contestants. For the judges, she said, "the one thing is that we can always be objective because we don't get emotionally involved with the contestants because we're not allowed to speak to them." Osbourne added that, "in that way, your heart doesn't lead your head." Springer playfully called himself a "pansy" and says this is, "why I could never be a judge. I'd always say �Aw, come on. Put them through, put them through.'"
Despite the less-than-great performers, however, the voting does eventually whittle down the talent to the cream of the crop. Springer notes that, "even though you may get some crazy acts along the way, the truth in the end the public votes and they really do vote for the people with the most talent." He also adds that, "the public kind of knows what good talent is because the votes really go there."
Besides the entertainment (or at least attempts at entertainment) from the contestants, there is more than enough fun to be had by either watching Springer's giddy enthusiasm at the performers or the judges bantering with one another. The egos of Hasselhoff (famous for Baywatch and his international fame) and Morgan (who recently won the Celebrity Apprentice) seem to bring about a whole new kind of competition. "As you all know, we are privileged to be on the Planet Hoff," Springer offered. "And all of a sudden Piers is coming on his planet and wanting to be the... big man out there." Sharon added that "[Morgan] is definitely a little more cocky this season." Springer added that, "Sharon and I share a lot of looks while the two are going at each other."
One other element that is hard to miss at the judges' table is the buzzer that the judges can employ whenever they feel an act is so awful that they need to be stopped. While Piers is notoriously quick with the buzzers, Hasselhoff and Osbourne tend to be a little more patient with the contestants. The diminutive Osbourne said that she can't stand the buzzer because it startles her every time but she knows, "it could never be changed and I think that Piers does it because he loves to buzz everybody. And I think even more he loves to annoy me."
With all the judging of talent before them, it makes sense to wonder how much talent can be found with those hosting and judging the many contestants? Hasselhoff has enjoyed a long-running acting and singing career and Morgan had a successful journalism career before his judging duties commenced with both British and American version of Simon Cowell's Got Talent series. Osbourne and Springer, however, are both quick to point out that despite the talent forum on "America's Got Talent," they themselves do not possess much talent at all. Osbourne said, "Oh my goodness... [I] can't sing, can't dance, can't do a thing." She also added, "I am tone deaf." Springer suggested that his lack of talent helped him land his current hosting gig on the show. "In fact, I was chosen as the hose because next to me, all the contestants would look like they have talent. And that was a great strategic move on Simon's behalf."
When asked about what they think of the appeal of "America's Got Talent," Springer feels that the changes in technology have had a large influence. "It used to be that people would sit and watch, whether it was watching an athletic event, watching theater, watching a movie, watching a singer. But, because of technology, we, the audience, has become the entertainment." Further explaining, he says, "The public is voting one of their own to be the entertainer." Citing the variety programs of the past, he says, "What is great about 'America's Got Talent' [is] it really is the only show that I know since Ed Sullivan [which ran on CBS for 24 seasons]... that is a pure citizen variety show."
Television variety, then, has come a long way and based on the success of "America's Got Talent," the show was struck a nerve with audiences everywhere and will be entertaining us (or at least making attempts to) for many seasons to come.
"America's Got Talent" airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST/PST on NBC.