June 30--You know what an interview is going to be like when it starts off with the interviewee giggling.
Makes it hard to get straight answers, especially if you're talking to "America's Got Talent" judge and famously germaphobic funnyman Howie Mandel. He shared a recent teleconference with new judge and former Spice Girl Mel B.
Once he settled down, he was pretty much all business, other than remarks about being naked during the interview and being happy he could talk to a group of people without anyone touching him, and eager to talk about this eighth season continuing with auditions at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBC, channel 2, cable 9.
"I think the heart and soul of our show is that we are the last bastion of variety, you know," said the Canadian comedian, actor and show host who replaced David Hasselhoff as a judge on the show in 2010.
"And we truly have variety."
He isn't kidding. The reality TV competition show, open to all ages and any talent, features everything from the sublime to the ridiculous to the downright dangerous and often has viewers asking "is this really talent?"
In the show's second season, the winner was talented ventriloquist Terry Fator. Last season, it was a group of performing dogs that won the $1 million prize and a headlining show at The Palazzo in Las Vegas.
But, to get to those winners, viewers watched traditional dancing and singing along with acts that involved a rattlesnake and a balloon and a man whose "talent" was getting kicked in the scrotum. This season it takes the votes of three of four judges -- model Heidi Klum and radio shock jock Howard Stern round out the panel -- to move the contestants from the auditions into the competitive rounds in Las Vegas and beyond.
"And our four people on the panel come from not only four different worlds of entertainment but from all over the world," he said. "And as Howard keeps saying, we want to find an international star. We don't want to just find somebody that wins 'America's Got Talent' and gets the $1 million and ends up at Radio City Music Hall. We want to find somebody that is going to be an international star, and I think that this addition of these extra two judges from all over the world (Klum is German; Mel B is British) is going to send us in that direction."
This season, the judges will pick 55 people who will perform live on stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Luckily for Mandel, he keeps getting asked to return to the show.
"I would come back as long as they continue to have me," he said. "I love this. I love watching and have sympathy as a fellow performer for anybody that's willing to get up and put themselves out and anybody who's creative and anybody who's original. ... I just love the energy and watching anybody get up on stage and trying to entertain."
His goal on the show is to get viewers to see real variety when it appears on the stage, he said.
"I think we as judges keep hammering it home to the audience to go 'Alright, so this guy came out and he's got an acoustic guitar. He's a good-looking guy. He's got a great voice.' You want to see him. You like the sound of his voice and he's singing a song that's already been made popular by somebody else.
"What about this guy that's been working for 10 years in his basement and he's come up and he's doing something you have never seen before? You've never heard before? And it's just amazing. I hope that the audience takes that into consideration over what can be perceived as something easier or more normal."
That may be difficult for audiences used to picking the attractive singer belting out their favorite tune as opposed to a singing mime -- yes, singing mime -- or an Irish hip-hop dance troupe, a gum sculptor or a gospel choir.
The several hundred acts that the judges have seen and voted through so far this season will be whittled down to 40 or 50 acts during the show's boot camp.
The key in selecting those acts will be originality, Mandel said.
"I can honestly tell you ... the greatest and most exciting moment so far, and it's happened more this season than any other season, is that is when our jaw drops. When you go 'Oh my God.' When we look at each other without any words and go 'Oh my God. What are we watching? What is this? You know, what category?'
"It's not a singer. It's not a dancer. What is this person doing and how amazing is this. And, I need to see more of it.
"And I cannot believe this is even a job. I got into this business to try to garner an audience and make a career of it. And then, when I wasn't working like the rest of the world, you sit at home in your underpants and you judge. That's what people are doing."
'AMERICA'S GOT TALENT'
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: NBC, channel 2, cable 9
Rita Sherrow 918-581-8360
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