Yes, it’s true — Howard Stern will be replacing Piers Morgan at the judges’ table on “America’s Got Talent.” Clearly, the contentious radio personality is considered a big get by producers, who are moving the whole show to New York to accommodate him. What this means for co-judges Sharon Osbourne (who has a regular gig at Los Angeles-based “The Talk”) and Howie Mandel is not yet clear — and the impact Stern might have on the show itself is also anyone’s guess.
There doesn’t seem to be much overlap between Stern’s radio show and “AGT.” Stern is known for caustic humor, fart jokes and giggling bimbos taking off their tops in studio. “AGT,” on the other hand, tends to have a squishy center, focusing on inspiring contestant stories and the occasional little kid who can sing. It’s all very family friendly, sometimes annoyingly so. So how does Stern fit in?
The argument has been made that Stern can — and often does — dial it back when he’s not on air. For anyone who remembers the movie version of “Private Parts,” it was a shockingly warm, human and candid piece of filmmaking in which Stern revealed himself to be both a romantic and, yes, something of a dork. Not that he has to dial it back too drastically for “AGT.” Most viewers would agree Morgan’s acerbic judgment was a much-needed antidote to the show’s overall goopy tone. Osbourne and Mandel are solid critics (and Mandel, who replaced David Hasselhoff, was a vast improvement over his predecessor), but sometimes it was nice to have their even-handedness cast aside by Morgan’s irritable Grinch persona. He didn’t like a performer, he didn’t feel he had to justify it (beyond, “It was booooring”) and that was that.
We can likely expect more impassioned criticism from Stern, who lacks Morgan’s reserve. But already I’m wondering if Stern wouldn’t have been the better choice for say, “American Idol.” Not that Stern knows anything about singing, but at least the competitors on that show have to be between 15 and 28. I don’t think Stern will eviscerate a cute tot on “AGT” (or at least I hope not), but I don’t really want to see him tear apart a little old lady who thinks she can do splits, either. Okay, maybe I do, but I question what Stern’s unvarnished criticism will mean for the tone of the show. Will Osbourne and Mandel (assuming they stay) be pushed to balance Stern’s tone by coddling contestants? Will there be more bantering and less focus on performance?
Despite some reservations, I am looking forward to what Stern will definitely be bringing to the show, which is a truly lively, opinionated judge. Too often judges on these programs are more worried about their lives after the shows go off the air than about being honest — if they’re too harsh, they fear record sales or movie ticket receipts will be affected. So what if some kid whose fifteen minutes are ticking out gets no useful criticism whatsoever? That’s why Simon Cowell was such a breath of fresh air — he said what he thought and didn’t give a damn. Stern will not only say what he thinks, but he will probably care deeply about who stays and who goes (I’ve never known the guy to be blase about anything). There will be no phoning it in, no waffling, and possibly something to discuss around the water cooler the next day — a status that’s never really applied to “AGT.” No wonder the producers are willing to move the show 3,000 miles away to accommodate Stern.
What do you think about Howard Stern as a talent judge?