The new season of America’s Got Talent starts Tuesday at 9 p.m. New judges include former Spice Girl Mel B. and supermodel/personality Heidi Klum, who are joining forces with Howie Mandel and Howard Stern. New York’s Radio City Music Hall is the spectacular new venue.
Even so, the roots of this NBC variety competition are steeped in TV antiquity, reaching back to the medium’s infancy.
It was on June 20, 1948, that The Ed Sullivan Show (then known as The Toast of the Town) began its 24 seasons of jugglers, opera singers, comedians, animal acts and Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
It was also 65 years ago that The Original Amateur Hour moved to TV after a successful run on radio (its final CBS telecast was in 1970).
The variety show was pronounced dead decades ago. And after The Gong Show in the 1970s and ’80s, and Star Search, which folded in 1995, talent competitions also seemed kaput.
But Simon Cowell has done his part to resurrect both genres.
He was the tart-tongued judge when American Idol began its epoch-changing run on Fox in 2002.
With his Syco Entertainment, he now serves as a creator, producer and judge on Fox’s The X Factor, which will start its third season in the fall.
And off-camera, he is the driving force of America’s Got Talent, now starting its eighth season.
In a recent phone interview from his native London, the 53-year-old mega-impresario recalled enjoying talent shows such as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces as a child.
And he described how a few years ago, amid the boom of singing competitions, he hatched the idea for the broader-based talent show America’s Got Talent. He was watching a singing show in Britain when a contestant warbled a familiar song, very badly, “and I remember thinking: ‘I’d actually rather watch a dancing dog than listen to her.’
“Then I said to myself, ‘I used to LOVE that kind of show! Why don’t we bring back that type of show?’”
So he did. America’s Got Talent (the first in Cowell’s global Got Talent franchise) premiered in 2006. And last year, fittingly, a dog act, Olate Dogs, won the $1 million prize.
AGT is hardly Cowell’s only project, even in the U.S.
Come fall, The X Factor returns on Fox after two seasons of conspicuously falling short of what the audience was led to expect.
Will its third be the charm?
“If you’d asked me that question even a month ago,” Cowell replied, “I would have said I honestly don’t know.” But recent auditions in Charleston, S.C., were “by far the best two days we’ve shot” since the series began, he declared.
“It suddenly just clicked.’’