[06/23/09 - 12:08 AM]
Interview: "America's Got Talent" Judge Piers Morgan
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

The profile of NBC's "America's Got Talent" received an exposure boost earlier this year when songstress Susan Boyle appeared on sister show "Britain's Got Talent" and quickly became an international sensation. As the fourth season of the stateside version premieres tonight, will the show get its own Susan Boyle this season and will Boyle herself make an appearance? Judge Piers Morgan took time away from his judging duties to talk about all that as well as some of the attention he's getting for a beefcake photo being used in a Burger King campaign.

Does Morgan predict a ratings jump with this season of "America's Got Talent?" "No question," he said. "I mean, look, the British show got record ratings up 50% because of the Susan Boyle phenomenon. And I have got no doubt that we are going to see significant increases in the ratings of 'America's Got Talent' this summer. I think this season we're back where we should be as the number one summer show and we've got this incredible oxygen of the Susan Boyle phenomenon and all the interest around 'Britain's Got Talent.'" Morgan also felt that there's another reason more people will tune in this summer. "I think Americans are very competitive particularly when it comes to the Brits and I think that America's going to want to tune in to see how America responds to the challenge, you know? Have you got anyone who can beat our Susan?"

Morgan said that he could immediately see the impact of Boyle when the it was time to being the tryouts for the new season of the U.S. version. "From the moment Susan Boyle exploded onto the world's radar, from the time that show was aired in Britain, I noticed on the 'America's Got Talent' audition trail that we were getting suddenly thousands more people turning up to auditions so that had a very big effect on the quality of the auditions. And, as a result, we chose the Top 40 last week in Vegas in our boot camp and it's by far the most talented collection of acts we've ever had on the show." Morgan went on to speak optimistically about lightning striking again with one of the yet-to-be-discovered contestants. "Do I think there's a Susan Boyle act in there that could have the same kind of effect on the world? Yeah, I think there's two or three that, you know, depending on how they go down with the American public could be really, really big acts. So I'm very excited and again the Susan Boyle phenomenon has pulled through into the American show."

Recalling the first time that Boyle appeared on the "Britain's Got Talent" stage, Morgan said that he (along with fellow judges Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden) were genuinely surprised thanks to the design of the series. "Simon Cowell, the creator of the 'Got Talent' format, he's absolutely adamant we should never have any warning from the producers about what is going to come on stage in terms of their ability because, you know, sometimes we might get told their name and that's about it. What Simon believes and I think he's absolutely right is that if you have prior warning that someone's going to be great then you don't act surprised. I mean, why would you, you know? If we knew Susan Boyle had a voice like an angel we wouldn't have been pulling all those faces and being rather condescending towards her. We would have been thinking well let's give her a couple of seconds to sing and then we'll all know she's great."

Besides a new crop of contestants, there's another new face on the show with the addition of actor/rapper/Mariah Carey spouse Nick Cannon, who replaces Jerry Springer as host. "Nick's fantastic," Morgan said. "I mean, I love Regis, I loved Jerry after him. Nick's very different obviously. He's a younger guy, he's very dynamic, he's very happening, you know. I didn't know much about him before but I've certainly learned that he is very quick witted, he's very funny, he's very warm, he loves the show, and I think he's had a lot of fun. I think he'll bring a whole new vibe to it which we haven't had before which is always good. When a show is into its fourth season you want to shake things up a bit and I think Nick does that really well." Fellow judges Sharon Osbourne and David Hasselhoff also return to the series this season.

While Morgan is used to being in the judges seat and commenting on others, he's been on the receiving end of attention with an ad for Burger King that finds him nude except for a gold chain and a strategically draped red velvet blanket. The first season winner of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" shared that he's not exactly traumatized by the attention. "I'm actually really enjoying it. I think I've spent 44 years for my body to be the subject of speculation and there we are. Finally I've achieved my great aim. No I think it's all a lot of fun. I mean, I woke up this morning and discovered I was the man's most emailed picture on Perez Hilton and I think that may be a career high. I haven't quite thought it through yet but it's got to be up there."

Returning to talking about the contestants, Morgan talked about past winners of "America's Got Talent" and how a career can unexpectedly be born. Of last year's winner, Neal Boyd, Morgan said, "He's certainly got a good career ahead of him. I mean, again it's these surprise moments. I remember when [second season winner] Terry Fator first performed, you know, I remember Bianca Ryan on the first season. There are moments when you're just in that judging chair and you've had a long day, people come on, and it's kind of special when the expectancy level is low. In other words, they don't look like a conventional star, you know, whether it's their physical appearance, their demeanor, something about them, you know, nothing screams star, it's just unusual. And they start to perform and you realize these people have lived this dream, you know, for however long. In Bianca's case not very long, in Neal Boyd's case a long time, you know, working in a very ordinary job, praying and hoping for a break, no money, no success before, and then bang, he's on 'America's Got Talent,' he wins the show, he has an incredible voice, and he becomes a bona fide star. That's the magic of the show I think. It is the ultimate talent competition."

Finally, in terms of the wide types of contestants that can audition for the show, Morgan stated that he believes it's best to keep the net wide so they get a wide array of contestants. "I think it is part of the genius of the franchise. I think if we try and sanitize it too much or try and, you know, fix things or eliminate certain categories of people, you know, young kids or older people or, you know, anything like that that you get into difficult areas. I mean, the point of the show is it's just an old fashioned variety talent show. Nobody's forcing these people to come on and audition. No one's holding a gun to their heads, they do so entirely voluntarily. You know, they've all lived the dream, they all want to have that dream."

"America's Got Talent" returns for its fourth season tonight with a special two-hour premiere beginning at 9:00/8:00c - with additional episodes on Wednesdays, also at 9:00/8:00c - on NBC.

  [june 2009]  


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