America’s Got Talent returned to TV for its 11th season this
year with returning judges, Howie Mandel, Mel B and Heidi Klum, along
with host Nick Cannon. This year a new member was added to the judges’
panel – although he is not new to the show at all – the creator of
America’s Got Talent and longtime television judge, Simon Cowell.
Mel B, or
“Scary Spice” as some people might know her from her days with the pop
group The Spice Girls, is in her fourth season judging on America’s
Got Talent. Mel B is a widely-known singer, actress, author,
television personality and entrepreneur. She began her judging career on
The X Factor UK working alongside her current fellow judge,
Cowell is known for many, many things, including his very honest
opinions when judging, his success creating Syco Music, being behind
such big name’s like One Direction, Fifth Harmony, Little Mix, Susan
Boyle and more. Simon has been judging on television for quite some time
now. He began on a UK talent show called Pop Idol, became a
sensation when he joined the team at the US version of the show:
American Idol. After several successful years on AI, he moved
on to The X Factor UK, which he then brought over to the US for a
few seasons. Cowell also created and has judged on both Britain’s Got
Talent and America’s Got Talent.
July 25th, we were one of several media companies on a conference call
to speak with judges Mel B and Simon Cowell about their experiences on
the show, their favorite acts and much more.
so hard to compare different types of acts – like singing to magic, or
things that are so different. Are there some certain criteria, or ways
you figure that out?
Simon Cowell:It's a good question. I'll tell you
what happens. Like you said, there is no way any judge in the world can
be an expert on everything. We're judging everything from dogs to
jugglers to singers. Sometimes – actually a lot of the time – you have
to put it down to: Do you want to see that act again? Do you think they
can improve? And, how are you feeling in that moment, to be honest with
you. I do look back on the shows sometimes, with the people we do put
through. I'm thinking: what were you thinking at the time? I mean
there's no logic to it. But that's what makes this show fun. There are
no rules. There's no scoring system you could possibly use when you're
judging some of these crazy acts.
Mel B: Do you want me to add onto that?
Simon Cowell: What do you think Mel? Yes.
Mel B: Yes. I mean I basically judge on if I'm
entertained or not. No matter what their act is. Whether it's a danger
act, a singer, 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
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? Or do you
really just find out when they get onstage?
Simon Cowell:[We know] Nothing.
Mel B:It's a surprise.
Simon Cowell:I ask for them to tell us absolutely zero about
anybody. Look, sometimes [the producers] might say there's something
sensitive, don't go there. But that's really, really rare. Our job,
funny enough – when we talk to them on stage – is to find out what we
can. What they want to tell us. Not knowing makes it much more fun and
interesting for us, and the audience sitting behind us, I think. Of
course, the audience at home to know everything that we don't know.
Mel B:I was just about to say that. Simon took the
words out of my mouth. I am a very, very nosy person. I like to find out
a bunch of stuff before they act. I think the audience appreciates that,
because we're seeing it just like they are – for the very first time. I
think that comes across.
some key indicators you look for when evaluating the success of the act
being a long-term success or a one hit wonder? Do you think about that
while you're evaluating their performance?
Mel B: I don't. I like to just react to what I'm
seeing there and then. Heidi [Klum] sometimes says, “But what are you
going to do next?” 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.
Sometimes I think to myself it's better left unsaid. Better not to even
ask. It is more of a surprise the second time around. Sometimes even
though they seem like a one hit wonder, they can pull some stuff out of
the bag in the next time that you see them that you wouldn't have even
Simon Cowell:Yes. I agree actually with what Mel said. 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. 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. A lot of times 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. Some people do it and some people don't. 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. It really took me by surprise. I
mean, I was happy for her. But the same thing with Tape Face. I thought
yes, that was funny. 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.
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. I suppose yes. If someone
gets traction on social media, there's a reason for it. This show was
always designed to take advantage of social media in the hopes that you
would have that secondary window, so that people get to know about the
acts that they've missed on the show and they come back and watch the
show. 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. She got
beaten by a dance act who on the night was just better. No one expected
that to happen. They're a group called Diversity and they were amazing.
Sometimes it works for you. Then other times on the night someone else
does better and then you don't win. It's good unpredictability I think.
you think singers are so hot this season? And also, what's your
temperature on Sal? He was a former Idol
Simon Cowell:Well, 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 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 out: look, you can trust the show. Singers can do well
on this show, as well as the variety acts. It was a combination of that
[and] the producers cast it very well. People just wanted to be on the
show. They were judged well on the show. You could see that when you
watched the singers back. You had a panel on who really liked the same
kind of music, which really helped.
you like it when you had Louis there on the panel?
Simon Cowell: Louis is great. It was so funny and it was so
odd, that he had auditioned for me five years ago. Now he's sitting
where I'm sitting judging other people and doing it really well. I was
really happy for him and he loved doing it.
One Direction guys are going in the right direction. You've got Liam
with the solo album. I don't know if you’ve heard the new music and I'm
sure it's awesome. But…
Simon Cowell:Yes. We are talking to all of them at the
moment. The great thing about these boys – well not all of them but most
of them – they're incredibly loyal. You don't always expect that. Niall,
Harry, Louis, amazing.
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:It's all
about being really clever with your song choices. 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 they've got to really do their research
and put their own stamp, especially if you're a singer. When I look at
the 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. The singing performances and acts that have
gone through are really, really good too. What's been great this season
so far is everybody's back-story. 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. That raises up the stakes and raises up the
ante, especially with live shows because with live shows anything can
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…
Simon Cowell:It's all about relating to her, though isn't
Mel B: I said 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, 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 go now.
There was a pattern when we first started these shows. There was a kind
of a formula for what people should or shouldn't do. Now it's all about
showing people who you are. If you've got the confidence in who you are,
you stick with it. 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. 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.
Telegdy said to me before we started this show – he came over to the
house and we had the judges – 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.” That stuck in my head. People have seen with this show,
and it’s important to know this, everyone's got the confidence now to
say this is who I am. I'm proud of it. 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. If you're talented, you're up
for it. The 90-year-old guy proves that. The singer. He was brilliant.
Then goes on to one of the coolest bands in the world. I think that's
what people, and certainly what I like about the show this year. It
Mel B:It does.
talking a little bit about Golden Buzzers and the judges... do you both
think that there's a little bit of an inherent disadvantage of going
into these live shows and they've only performed 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 cancel that out?
Simon Cowell: 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. That started about four
years on the show in the UK. Then we brought it over here. It's
interesting how much the audience in the room love it. When they really
like someone, they start screaming “Golden Buzzer! Golden Buzzer.” It's
a badge of honor. It puts a certain amount of pressure on the
contestants, but I think it's good pressure. It's a good thing. It's
going to be interesting to see how the people who are in the judge cuts
now compete with the people who have the Golden Buzzers. I think it
makes it more interesting.
Mel B:If I can add to that, I also think it makes
them feel that little bit more like confident. If they had a little bit
of self-doubt, hopefully it will have gone. For example, my Golden
Buzzer Laura, she was so timid and almost a bit frail. As soon as she
started to sing, it was almost like she couldn't even believe how great
her voice was. The fact that she got that Golden Buzzer, I think
somewhere inside of her – a bridge. It's like: Yes! I've been approved
ahead of time. I think it's going to boost their confidence a little
Simon Cowell: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.
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. I haven't always been rude. Maybe at times I get a little
bit frustrated, but I actually like most of the acts. You just never saw
Simon Cowell:Well, I wouldn't say bad. I'd call it
you think of Orlando juggler Viktor Kee's chances?
Simon Cowell:I like him. I really do. Again, his
story, 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. Normally,
if I'm being honest with you, I can't bear those kind of acts. Soon as
someone says the word juggler it's “oh God, this is going to be awful.”
But he was brilliant. He's such a fascinating person. It's quite
interesting because I've done this show for ten years in England. 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, with people like
him, because they were so different, you do remember them. 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.
two Chicago area acts this week - Laura, the opera singer and
Musicality, the group from the Southwest side - the ensemble group. So
Mel, you mentioned Laura before but I'm curious looking back at all the
acts now, are you glad that she was your Golden Buzzer?
Mel B: Oh my God, yes. Are you kidding me? I said this
earlier: She was just so timid. I actually got worried for her when she
was talking in the pre-chat, [that] she wasn't actually going to be able
to deliver. Then she started singing and a whole new world opened. I
mean I'm so glad that I hit my Golden Buzzer for her. I mean yes. She
was great. What else can I say about her?
Musicality came on and they were the final act to get the go ahead. Did
you at all consider their backstory and some of the pain that they sang
through in this last audition?
Simon Cowell:Yes. It really made [a difference]. One of the
first questions was about the back-stories. They were very open with us
when they came on the stage and told us where they were from, what life
was like, some of the disadvantages they've had to deal with. They used
to rehearse in a stairwell and stuff like that. Every single one of
those people you could see it in their eyes how much it meant to them.
The guy who was the conductor and their musical director is a fantastic
guy. They've really, really done well together. They're the sort of
group who you really want to do well. They work hard. They definitely
improved from the first audition to the second audition. That's one of
those yeses you love giving, because you could see how much it meant to
them. Again, what I'm hearing through the producers during the rehearsal
is that they've stepped up again. This has given them the confidence,
this show and the reaction they've had to carry doing. I think they'll
inspire a lot of people. I learned a lot about the whole art education
program here, which has been slashed to pieces. So it's important that a
group like this is represented and do well and they're fun. I like them.
Mel B:I think as well; you want to root for the
underdog. At the end of the day it’s down to America to vote. You want
to have that story that connects with people. It's not a false story.
That's just the way that they live and they're dealing with whatever's
happened to them. I mean the guy had his sister killed. You’re
heartbroken after that.
Simon Cowell: Yes. It was tragic. You felt for him. Like I
said, that's one of those moments where you just love giving them a yes
and watch the reaction back on TV. They were fantastic. I think both of
those groups from your area have got a shot in the next round.
else has mentioned how many amazing acts there are this season and I
think this is why it's personally my favorite season to watch. For the
both of you, if you had to pick one act, who are you most excited to see
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. When I
look at the list of all the 30, 40 people that are going to be through
to the live shows, they all hold a special place inside me. I've agreed
with nearly every single act that is going through. But I have to say,
in the break in between interviews right now, I was raving about the
dance group that was George Lopez's Golden Buzzer: Malevo, Malevo. I
love a dance group. Not everybody on the panel does. The way that they
came out with such power and passion, it was just hot. So I'm super
excited to see these guys. They're one of my favorites, obviously apart
from my own Golden Buzzer. 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 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,
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:Sal we've spoken about is a real talent.
Simon Cowell:I like the guy who drills things into
himself. I like Tape Face. There's 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. I think there's
going to be a lot of surprises because America's taking over the show
for the first time as of tomorrow, so we've completely lost control of
it. I'm fascinated to see what they're going to do with it.
Mel B: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. 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… 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.
CHECK OUT A
PREVIEW OF SEASON 11 OF AMERICA'S GOT TALENT!