Howie Mandel asks $1 million question on “AGT’

Rick's Reviews

Howie Mandel returns to the judges’ table for the new season of “America’s Got Talent.” (Photo courtesy of NBC()

The question most often asked during episodes of the NBC competition series, “America’s Got Talent,” is whether or not a performance is a $1 million act. That’s referring to the grand prize the winner will receive.

It’s a question that will get posed again as the new season begins at 8 p.m. June 1. Howie Mandel, who has been a judge on the series for 12 years, reveals that the question is not only what the judges have to decide but also is something the contestant should ponder.

“When we pose that question, it’s kind of a rhetorical question in the sense of, ‘Do you really think about what you have…?’ I think it’s a kind of a backhanded way to say, ‘Have you really given this the thought it would take to enter on to the biggest stage in the biggest talent contest in the world?’,” Mandell says.

That thinking has resulted in a wide range of acts competing over the years on “America’s Got Talent” – singers, dancers, acrobatics, comedians, daredevils, ventriloquists and magicians. Those would naturally come across as the kind of act a person would think could be a big winner.

Last year revealed that defining a $1 million act is not so simple. Mandel’s golden buzzer selection, Brandon Leake, used his skill as a spoken word artist to take the grand prize. He won despite having been rejected from even trying out for the show in 2017 because the thinking was that spoken word was not something to which the home audience would respond.

Even Mandel admits that if he had been asked before Leake walked on stage if he had a chance of even making it to the live shows, he would have thought there was no chance.

“We were just as surprised as anybody that that was so amazing, so right for the moment we were in, so well done, and moved the world with his words,” Mandel says. “And when we ask the question, we’re sharing what hopefully, the audience is thinking at home. ‘Is this a million-dollar act?’

“Even if I like it, is this something that can move on and really has a chance in this contest? You’re listening to us think out loud.”

Mandel calls the fact that Leake advanced one of the reasons “America’s Got Talent” has been so hugely popular. It shows the possibilities for winners is wide open.

The modified season that aired last year during COVID restrictions was one most watched entertainment program every week it aired. In addition to being on top of the ratings, “America’s Got Talent” found success in the digital/social world amassing 3.2 billion views across all digital video platforms in 2019.

The “Got Talent” format has had more than a billion global viewers since it began airing in 2006 in America and has aired in 194 territories worldwide. “Got Talent” holds the Guinness World Records title as the Most Successful Reality Television Format in history with more than 70 local versions produced across Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas.

Mandel has seen a lot of different talents as he serves as a judge on both “America’s Got Talent” and the global winter edition of the franchise, “America’s Got Talent: The Champions.” There’s a whole new batch or performers in the original version who will try to make their way to the grand prize this season. Mandel will again be joined at the judges’ table by creator and executive producer Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara and Heidi Klum. Terry Crews returns as host. 

Mandel will try to repeat his success with the use of his golden buzzer. It may look like one of the judges has been designated to use their golden buzzer on a specific week, but there is no set order. A judge can use their one-time option to automatically send an act into the live performance rounds when they feel the time is right.

It’s determining the right time that’s the big question.

“We know that we each have one golden buzzer per season, so we’re sitting there together. And if that hits you, there’s no such thing as it being my turn, I will say to the other three, ‘I’m loving this, I want to press the button’,” Mandel says. “So, that just hits you in the moment.

“What happens is you’re seeing something in the moment and you go, ‘Oh, my god; oh, my god, this is moving me; this is the best thing I’ve seen in so long and my heart is pounding, I got to do it.’ The thing about it is after you give somebody the golden buzzer, you don’t know what’s up next.”

Then the judges have to wait and see if they have used their golden buzzer to pick a $1 million act – as Mandel did with Leake – or if they have missed the chance to spotlight a performer who is even better.

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