After five hours of content, I think we're at a pretty good place to judge the newest judge to command a buzzer on America's Got Talent. Howard Stern, the King of All Media, has joined Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel for season 7 of the summer variety/talent competition. The producers wisely eased the audience into Howard Stern. The season premiere saw him playing nice with the contestants and asking questions about how the whole process worked. It humanized him to an audience that expected Stern to put through any act in a bikini and be inaudible thanks to all the censorship beeps. Fans were disappointed by this seemingly defanged Howard Stern.
Then he flipped the switch, claimed he was the only judge America cared about, and almost trampled Howie Mandel's mother as they left a rickety elevator in episode 2. Clearly, the tamer Howard was a creation of America's Got Talent and not an actual reflection of reality. He also knows how to play by the rules on TV and not get himself in trouble. He's dry and cutting as ever, only with a family audience in mind.
Season 6 was a down year for America's Got Talent. Piers Morgan was clearly miserable and lashing out at the talent and the other judges because he didn't want to be there. He was pulled in too many directions because of his new nightly news/talk show and just couldn't focus. His attitude rained all over a season that actually saw variety acts go further than a lot of the singers.
Howard Stern is the perfect choice to replace him for a simple reason: he knows and likes his fellow judges. Howie Mandel was a regular guest on his radio show and Sharon Osbourne has known him for years because of Ozzy's music career. They have great chemistry together. They can disagree without actually fighting. The trio joke around, pick on each other, and laugh at everything that happens.
Nick Cannon's role as the host and hype man fits in nicer as well. The judges aren't miserable by the time Nick is sent out to play to the crowd with a wacky audition. They're actually having a fun time and willing to play along with Nick's antics.
This doesn't mean that every act is getting through. Howie, Sharon, and Howard are all very natural when they critique performances. They put the contestants in the context of the show and their field, clearly describe what they like, make suggestions for the future, and let the bad acts down without tearing them apart.
Where Piers was the blood thirsty emperor of a gladiatorial arena, the new trio are spectators first. Very few acts are being buzzed immediately and early buzzes are immediately discussed as the act goes on.
Perhaps the defining moment of Howard's judging so far happened in the first episode. I linked to the video of the instrument inventor last week, but it's worth bringing up again. Howard teases the guy mercilessly for his career choice and performance outfit. Then he performs and Howard all but apologizes for crossing the line. The performer is thrilled with the response of the judges and Howard is excited to actually see real talent on the show.
America's Got Talent is supposed to be fluffy summer programming. It's The Gong Show on a national scale with a bigger prize at the end. Someone who whistles with their hand can compete against an opera singer with forty years of experience and have the same chance of winning.
A judge like Howard Stern is needed to keep things light, funny, and on edge. He'll cut you down and build you up at the same time. It's a positive and biting energy that will keep creating memorable moments on this kind of show.
So what do you think of Howard Stern so far? Do you think he'll behave during the live shows? Sound off below.