‘America’s Got Talent’ interview: Simon Cowell, Mel B on challenges for Golden Buzzers, singers

AGT -Tuesday night the “America’s Got Talent” live shows are going to begin on NBC, and we are certainly looking forward to seeing what some of the acts bring to the table, and show the audience precisely just what they are capable of.

Do some acts need to do more to stand out than others, especially with so much competition? That is something that we were very interesting in learning from judges Simon Cowell and Mel B in a conference call on Monday afternoon. This call was a personal thrill to us just to be chatting “America’s Got Talent” — we’ve watched both this version of the show and the British show for so long that it’s hard to imagine our TV viewing habits existing without it.

CarterMatt – There are a lot of singers still left in the competition. What do you think these acts need to do to differentiate from each other?

Mel B – I think it’s being really clever with your song choices. If you’re going to choose a popular song that is going to go down well you have to put your own spin on it. So I think they’ve got to really do their research and put their own stamp, especially if they’re a singer.

But when I look at the live shows as a whole, you have everything there: You’ve got a 90-year old stripper, a footballer, you’ve got so many different genres of acts that are really good and entertaining; the singing acts that have gone through are really good, too. I think what’s been great this season is everybody’s backstory. They’re really hungry for this. They’re not just doing this 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 contender. That raises the stakes and ups the ante, especially with the live shows. With live shows, anything can happen.

Simon Cowell – What I’ve seen this year, particularly on the show, is a learning curve. The old rules are starting to go now. There was a pattern when we started these shows. There was kind of a formula for what people should or shouldn’t do. Now, I think it’s all about showing people who you are, and if you have the confidence in who you are, you stick with it. We’ve seen a couple of singers this season who have suddenly popped like Brian [Justin Crum], because he did what he felt passionate about and took a risk. You never know what is going to work in the room or what is going to work through TV. This guy has really popped and he’s been really honest.

The one thing [NBC alternative programming head] Paul Telegdy said to me before we started this show, he came over to the house and we had judges’ dinner, is ‘what I love about America’s Got Talent is we’re an inclusive show.’ That stuck in my head. I think people have seen that with this show, and it’s important that everyone’s got the confidence now to say ‘this is who I am, I’m proud of it,’ and they’re welcome on this show. I don’t get rules on talent shows. I’ve never understood them, like an age range or this or that. If you’re talented and you’re up for it — [John Hetlinger] proved that! He was brilliant, and goes on tour with one of the coolest bands in the world.

I think that’s what I certainly like about the show this year — it feels fresh.

Do you feel that the Golden Buzzer acts are at more of a disadvantage for only having one performance, or does the attachment that they have to the two of you help to cancel that out?

Simon Cowell – You have a good point there, since you can argue it’s an advantage or a disadvantage. You’ve had one less performance. I like them a lot. That started about four years ago in the UK and we brought it over here and it’s interesting how much the audience in the room love it. When they like someone they start screaming ‘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 it’s going to be interesting now to see how the people who were in the Judge Cuts compete with the people who have the Golden Buzzer. I think it makes it more interesting.

Mel B – I also think it makes them feel a little more confident. If they had a little bit of self-doubt, hopefully that will be gone. I mean, for my Golden Buzzer, Laura [Bretan], she was so timid and almost a little bit frail, then she started to sing. She couldn’t even believe how great her voice was. The fact that she got that Golden Buzzer, I think somewhere inside of her brain, she was like ‘yes, I’ve been approved ahead of time.’ I think it is going to boost her confidence a little bit.

Cowell – What it really is, is a real stem [for a judge] to show how much you like [an act]. I think when you watch it back on the show, I think it looks great. I really like it.

(As someone who has watched Golden Buzzer videos an unhealthy amount of times over the years, we’re right there with Simon!)

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