America’s Got Talent returns this week after being on a hiatus for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Just before the break, I had a chance to participate in a conference call with Mel B. and Simon Cowell and yes, my inner fangirl was freaking out! Simon Cowell joined the AGT judging panel for the first time this season and the ratings have been through the roof for the summer favorite. Simon was oh so humble when asked if he was the reason for the ratings bump. Read on to find out who Simon really is and what Mel B thinks of him.
I know it’s hard for you guys to decide who’s moving on. Some acts seem so hard to compare with so many different types of acts like singing and magic. Is there a certain type of criteria or way that you figure out who moves on?
Simon Cowell: Okay. Well, it’s a good question. I’ll tell you what happens. I mean, like you said, there is no way any judge in the world can be an expert on everything. And we’re judging everything from dogs to jugglers to singers.
And sometimes – actually not sometimes – a lot of the times you have to put it down to do you want to see that act again and do you think that they can improve and how are you feeling in that moment, to be honest with you. Because I do look back on the show sometimes with the people we do put through. And I’m thinking, what were you thinking at the time? I mean there’s no logic to it. But I think that’s what makes this show fun. There are no kind of rules and there’s no, like scoring system you could possibly use when you’re judging some of these crazy acts
Mel B: Yes. I mean I – I mean I basically judge on if I’m entertained or not no matter what their act is whether it’s a dancer act, a singer – I mean, or something that’s just really abstract that I’ve never seen before.
If I’m entertained, if I say to myself, “Oh my God, I would pay to go watch that show in Vegas,” then I’m going to vote yes all day long.
The audience gets to see clips about the people before they go on stage. Do you guys know anything about the people before they come out? Do you have any notes that you’ve been given or do you really just find out when they say hi?
Simon Cowell: Nothing. I mean…
Mel B: It’s a surprise.
Simon Cowell: …I ask for them to tell us absolutely zero about anybody. And look, sometimes they might say there’s something so sensitive, don’t go there. But that’s really rare. Our job, funny enough – when we talk to them on stage, is to find out what we can and what they want to tell us – and not knowing makes it much more fun and interesting for us and the audience sitting behind us I think. But then of course…the audience at home gets to know everything that we don’t know.
Mel B: I mean, I am a very, very nosy person. So I like to find out a bunch of stuff before they act. And I think the audience appreciates that because we’re seeing it just like they are for the very first time. And I think that comes across.
Are there some key indicators that you look for when evaluating the success of the act being a long-term success? I mean there’s a one hit wonder but, you know, for them developing new content, do you think about that while you’re evaluating their performance?
Simon Cowell: Mel, you can go first on this.
Mel B: I mean I don’t because I like to just like react to what I’m seeing there and then. You know, Heidi sometimes says, “But what are you going to do next?” And to me, I don’t care what they’re going to do next. All I know is I’m in that moment and I’m thoroughly entertained.
And sometimes I think to myself it’s better left unsaid and it’s better not to even ask. So it is more of a surprise the second time around because sometimes even though they seem like a one hit wonder, they can pull some stuff out of the bag in the next – the next time that you see them that you wouldn’t have even thought of.
Simon Cowell: Yes. I mean I agree actually with what Mel said. I think in this day and age it’s almost impossible to predict that kind of stuff because so many factors have to happen after the show.
I mean if you look at One Direction or Susan Boyle, I mean I don’t think any of us when we first worked with both acts could have possibly have predicted what was going to happen next.
And a lot of time to be able to – it comes down to the act. It’s got to be in them that they are going to push and fight for a successful career afterwards. And some people do it and some people don’t.
And sometimes when we’re sitting doing the audition – with Grace as an example – this is the little girl who played the ukulele – and she had this massive response of the show. Genuinely on the day, I thought she was good. I didn’t think she’d get that response.
Mel B: Yes.
Simon Cowell: It really took me by surprise. I mean I was happy for her. But the same thing with Tape Face. I mean I thought yes, that was funny. And then he gets like 30, 40 million hits on YouTube or something. You just can’t predict (things) anymore.
Mel B: He went viral big time.
Simon Cowell: Yes. Which is good. I like that.
As it relates to this season, what are you seeing that’s made the season so hot for viewers to watch on TV outside of the temperature outside?
Simon Cowell: Well let’s start with Mel on that one but I think I know the answer.
Mel B: No. Let’s start with you, Simon.
Simon Cowell: No, no darling. I’ll follow you.
Mel B: Please.
Simon Cowell: What? Yes. I’ll follow you.
Mel B: What was the question again so I can just answer…
Simon Cowell: Why is the show so much better this year?
Mel B: …in a nice way rather than making it all about myself.
Simon Cowell: Has anybody, in particular, made a difference? I think that was sort of the question.
Mel B: I mean…(for me). You know, I think I – I mean I love Simon. And yes, I’m here on the phone and I will say – you heard it from me – I love working with Simon. And with Simon you don’t know what to expect. But you know with all of his experience and his personality – he’s a very lovable guy by the way. I’m just happy that he’s on this panel. I think he adds so much.
And I know from what people are telling me like the public and my friends and just in general, people are warming to Simon so much. And I don’t think they expected him to be like this. I mean I expected him to be like this because I know Simon. But I really think his addition has like taken it to a whole new level. And Simon, don’t get a big head and start repeating this. Okay?
Simon Cowell: I don’t need to repeat it. I’m actually not going to say anything after that. You kind of said it all.
Mel B: There you go.
Simon Cowell: I do love you, Mel. And actually you know what really makes a difference – I mean I’m teasing Mel and but I do agree with her – is the acts actually – the show is all about the acts. And I think what’s happened is that the – we’ve been able to attract better music acts, which you do need in a mix on a show like this. And also it has to be fun, this show.
Mel B: Yes.
Simon Cowell: If you ever get too serious particularly in this day and age with so many – so much bad news on the news and everything, (gosh) you’ve got to have escapism. And you’ve got to have a show where most things end up well and they’re fun. And that’s why I think the show has worked so well this year and it is a great panel. I have to tell you.
Why do you think the singers are so hot this season?
Simon Cowell: Well, I think, you know, we did do a lot of work in advance to tell a lot of singers – all the singers in fact to trust the show because, you know, the show’s always done well.
I don’t think we’ve had enough good singers turning up for the show in the past. So we all made a huge effort this year. I did a lot of radio interviews basically trying to put the message outlook you can trust the show. Singers can do well on this show as long as the variety act – as well as the variety act.
And it was a combination of that – the producers cast it very well. People just wanted to be on the show. And they were judged well on the show. You know, you could see that when you watched the singers back. You know, you had a panel on who really liked – I think unanimously the same kind of music, which really helped.
The guy with the chainsaw and swallowing the swords and everything, that’s crazy. How do you think that would sell in Vegas?
Simon Cowell: I like that stuff, though.
Mel B: That was absolutely… Terrifying.
Simon Cowell: I think they like all that stuff in Vegas. I mean it’s like watching a horror movie. You kind of don’t like it but you do like it and you want to see more of it. I like the whole mix of the show this year. I think they’ve done it very well.
And I think the final – I sat with the producers a couple of days ago and we looked again at the people who’ve made the finals. I mean there’s so many people this year who could win. And I think it’s going to feel like a competition.
Everyone feels that they’ve got something stepped up for the next round. But it’s going to be interesting. The Kodak Theatre is a very – well, the Dolby now. It’s a very intimidating place because of its kind of history. But I think it’s a brilliant theater. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow now.
We already heard a little bit about singers. What do you think they individually do to differentiate from each other and stand out to people voting at home?
Mel B: Well I think it’s all about being really clever with your song choices. You know, because if you’re going to choose a popular song, which will always go down well, you have to put your own twist on it. So I think just, you know, they’ve got to really do their research and put their own stamp especially if you’re a singer.
But when I look at the whole, you know, light show as a whole, you have everything there from, you know, we’ve got a 90-year-old stripper. We’ve got a footballer that does magic. We’ve got so many different genres of acts that are really good and really entertaining.
And, you know, the singing performances and acts that have gone through are really, really good too. And I think what’s been great this season so far is everybody’s backstory like they really are hungry for this.
They’re not just doing it because they’re talented and somebody told them to do it. They’re actually on this show to really, really win and be a serious competitor. And that like raises up the stakes and raises up the ante especially with live shows because with live shows anything can happen.
Simon Cowell: Is that it?
Mel B: That is it, Simon.
Simon Cowell: Very good darling. I like the fact that you started with the 90-year-old stripper.
Mel B: Yes. She’s great. I mean what other show do you get to see that on but next to a singer?
Simon Cowell: Not many. But they’re always welcome. I think your point about the singers is, you know, what I’ve noticed this year particularly on the show is it’s been a learning curve for me – a big learning curve because I think the old rules are starting to – are starting to go now.
You know, we – there was a pattern when we first started these shows where there was a kind of a formula for what people should or shouldn’t do. And I think now it’s all about showing people who you are. And if you’ve got the confidence in who you are, you stick with it.
And we’ve seen a couple of singers who have suddenly popped on the show like Brian because he did what he felt passionate about and he took a risk. And you never know what’s going to work in the room or what’s going to work through TV. But this guy has really popped and he’s been honest.
And the one thing we – Paul Telegdy said to me before we started this show – he came over to the house and we had the judges, you know. And the – and as he walked out the door, he said, “The one thing I love about America’s Got Talent is that we’re an inclusive show.” And that stuck in my head.
And I think people have seen with this show and it’s an important (to know this) that everyone’s got the confidence now to say this is who I am, I’m proud of it. And that they’re welcome on this show because I don’t get rules of talent shows – I’ve never understood them.
There’s an age range or this or that. You know, if you’re talented and you’re up for it. And the 90-year-old guy proves that – the singer – he was brilliant. Then goes on to one of the coolest bands in the world. So, you know, I think that’s what people – and certainly what I like about the show this year. It feels fresh.
Mel B: It does.
In talking a little bit about Golden Buzzers and, the judge’s – Golden Buzzers in particular. Do you both think that there’s a little bit of an inherent disadvantage of going into these live shows and that they’ve only performed for America once whereas everybody else has performed twice? Or do you think that just having that attachment to each one of you as judges is enough to kind of cancel that out?
Simon Cowell: Well, you know, that’s a very good point because you can argue it’s an advantage or a disadvantage because like you said, you’ve had one less performance.
I like them a lot. I mean we – that started about four years on the show in the U.K. and then we brought it over here and it’s very – it’s interesting how much the audience in the room love it. When they really like someone, they start screaming Golden Buzzer, Golden Buzzer.
I think it’s a badge of honor. I think it puts a certain amount of pressure on the contestants. But I think it’s good pressure. So I think it’s a good thing. And I think it’s going to be interesting now to see how the people who are in the judge cup now compete with the people who have the Golden Buzzers. So I think it makes it more interesting. So…
Mel B: Well if I can add to that. I also make – I also think it makes them feel that little bit more like confident. Like if they had a little bit of self-doubt, hopefully, it will have gone. I mean, for example, my Golden Buzzer Laura, she was so like timid and almost a bit frail. Soon as she started to sing, I mean it was almost like she couldn’t even believe how great her voice was.
And the fact that she got that Golden Buzzer, I think somewhere inside of her, you know – a bridge. It’s like yes, I’ve been approved ahead of time. And I think it’s going to – I think it’s going to boost their confidence a little bit.
Simon Cowell: And actually what it really is it’s just a real stamp to show how much you like it. I think when you watch it back on the show; I think it looks great that moment. I really like it.
Mel B: Thank you. I can’t wait to see that group. What is it? The dance group Malevo – Malevo, the George Lopez Golden Buzzer.
Simon Cowell: You like those don’t you?
Mel B: They were so good. Oh my God.
Simon Cowell: Yes. They are good.
Mel B: Yes.
Simon Cowell: Mel, let’s not make small talk darling.
Mel B: I am making small talk. I like it.
What do you think of Orlando juggler Viktor Kee’s chances?
Simon Cowell: I like him. I really do. Again, you know, his story, you know, when we found out about it afterwards was very sad. But he’s a real showman that guy. I could see him in Vegas or somewhere.
I normally – if I’m being honest with you, I can’t bear those kinds of acts. Soon as someone says the word juggler it’s oh God, this is going to be awful. But he was brilliant. And he’s such a fascinating person.
It’s quite interesting because I’ve done this show for ten years in England. And often after you’ve done the auditions, you forget 90 percent of the people afterwards because it’s just a blur.
But on this show and with people like him because they were so different, you do remember them. And he’s got an interesting personality. Look, I think it’s going to be tough for him up against some of the better-known acts. But you never know on this show.
And I look at these numbers for the social media views, which are just astonishing. Do you think those people have the edge?
Simon Cowell: Well, I don’t know what – I suppose yes. I mean if someone gets traction, you know, on social media, there’s a reason for it. And this show was always designed, you know, to take advantage of social media in the hopes that, you know – that you would have that secondary window so that people get to know about the acts that they’ve missed the show and they come back and watch the show.
But that’s not always the case that they’re going to win. The year that Susan Boyle got more social media than I’ve ever seen in my life on an act – she was the red-hot favorite in the final to win. And she got beaten by a dance act who on the night was just better.
And no one expected that to happen. They’re a group called Diversity and they were amazing. So sometimes it works for you and then other times on the night someone else does better and then you don’t win. So it’s good unpredictability I think.
It’s great to have you back. How do you think you’ve changed as a judge?
Simon Cowell: I mean…
Mel B: Oh, let me tell you.
Simon Cowell: …I think I was edited badly years ago is the honest truth. And I haven’t always been rude. I mean maybe at times I get a little bit frustrated. But I actually like most of the acts but you just never saw that before I don’t think.
But bad editing, huh?
Simon Cowell: Well, I wouldn’t say bad. I’d call it selective.
Mel B: That was funny.
If you had to pick one act, who are you most excited to see and why?
Simon Cowell: Okay. Mel, you go first on this because I’ve got to think about this one.
Mel B: This is really, really, really hard. Because I mean when I look at the list of, you know, all the 30, 40 people that are going to be through to the live shows, they all hold like a – they have a special place inside me because I’ve agreed with nearly every single act that is going through.
But I have to say – like in the break in between interviews right now, I was raving about the dance group that was George Lopez’s Golden Buzzer…
Mel B: …Malevo, Malevo. They are – I mean I love a dance group. Not everybody on the panel does. But the way that they came out with such power and passion, it was just hot. So I’m super excited to see these guys.
And yes, I mean they’re one of my favorites obviously apart from my own Golden Buzzer. But yes, I cannot wait to see what they bring to the stage because I know it’s going to be on fire.
Simon Cowell: You know what. This is really difficult and it is a good question. I was teasing you but it’s a good question because I can’t – I’m sort of fascinated to see what the 90-year-old stripper’s going to do next. I mean I was never in this position before. I mean does she take more off or does she get the tassels to work this time? I don’t know. At the same time, I’m obviously excited about the singers because that’s an important part of the show. And my own Golden Buzzer Calysta, you know, I’ve got a soft spot for her because I loved her story and I love her and I think she’s really good. I like Grace. I’m really curious to see what she’s going to do next.
Mel B: Yes.
Simon Cowell: Sal we’ve spoken about is a real (talent). I like the guy who drills things into himself. I like Tape Face. So there’re not many people who I’m disappointed about. Normally at this stage, there’s about ten I actually care about. This year, fortunately, there’s a lot more than that.
Mel B: And can I add to that? What I’m excited to see is the kids because I do feel like this season the kids have just popped out of nowhere with such confidence. So I’m – I mean I’m really excited to see what they’re going to bring especially the two young comedians.
Simon Cowell: And you know what. I think this guy Brian who I talked about earlier and he wasn’t, you know, he hasn’t got the biggest personality. He was quite shy when he first performed with us. But he sang Creep in the second round and I thought he was superb; really, really good. I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do because he’s a big singer and he’s got great taste.
So like I said, I think there’s going to be some surprises. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen but I’m really looking forward now to tomorrow.
Thank you, everyone, for your questions and coming on today. I really appreciate it.