I haven’t listened to much of Howard Stern since his move to satellite radio many years ago. Like a lot of folks in the 90s and aughts, I listened to him frequently on work commutes. What I appreciated about Stern was that he was able to remain a likable and compelling despite the fact that he found a way to piss me off at least once a commute. He was the original shock jock. He was provocative. He pushed the envelope. He went where other talk show hosts were too scared to go. His radio show racked up over $2.5 million in fines.
Now? He’s a “sweet old man,” barely recognizable as the pioneering shock jock he once was. He hosts a lame — no, the lamest — talent competition on the networks, and he earnestly loves it. I don’t watch “America’s Got Talent,” but this description of Stern from WaPo almost sounds made up.
This mellower Stern came to “America’s Got Talent” as a self-avowed true believer in the show’s hunt for amateurs who have something intangibly winning about their acts. He came to dish out a tiny bit of brutal honesty, but mainly he seemed to want to bask in the show’s trademark combination of awkwardness, ingenuity and love. He hugged everyone he saw. He leaped on stage to hug contestants. He tried to hug his notoriously germaphobic fellow judge, Howie Mandel. He hugged Ozzy Osbourne, the immortal rock legend who is married to Stern’s other fellow judge, the ubiquitous Sharon.
Stern delivered apple-pie pronouncements more typical of presidential candidates. When a dance troupe used glowing costumes and props to simulate dinosaurs and prehistoric plant life, Stern gushed:
“This is going to sound sappy,” he said. “We are the greatest country in the world. You are everything that makes America great.”
Apple-pie pronouncements? Who is this guy, and what did he do to Howard Stern? Whoever he is, this kindler, gentler Stern is not helping “America’s Got Talent,” which premiered this season 16 percent down from where it premiered last year, despite HEAVY, omnipresent promotion both on NBC and Stern’s radio show. This wouldn’t happen with the old Stern. If things slowed down on the show, he’d make the contestants remove their clothes and then he’d judge their bodies. THAT’S Howard Stern.