As a viewer, ‘America’s Got Talent’ always suffered for me because of the scripted “feud” between Howie Mandel and Piers Morgan. It was impossibly annoying and made the show a chore to watch. Piers Morgan’s departure was news I greeted with glee. The news that legendary “shock jock” and one of my favorite entertainers that has ever lived, Howard Stern, was joining the judges’ table made ‘AGT,’ true must-see television. Of course, this Howard Stern is a cuddlier model, as his edge has dulled – and not in a bad way – since he moved to Sirius radio. His decree that “I don’t think I make it past the first show” is said with a wink and met with tremendous applause. So, it’s with excitement that we welcome in the Howard Stern era.
When you think about it, ‘AGT’ is actually a pretty good fit for Howard Stern who has, as he noted, spent a big portion of his career finding people who are entertaining. Sure, most of Howard’s band of misfits are just that, misfits. It would be very easy to imagine Miss Less, the weird lady who lets her pet birds eat out of her mouth, in his studio as one of his rogue’s gallery of freaks and weirdos. I might be spending too much time on Stern, but let’s face it, it’s a huge reason why people are tuning in, so it must be given it’s due. For those who thought Stern would be a strange fit, they’re wrong. Stern fits in seamlessly. He goofed on Howie, made pointed jokes and watching his embrace Ozzy Osbourne during the most staid of prime time talent shows is something no one would have ever imagined in, say, 1987.
I know what you’re thinking, though “but Pat, what about the acts?” The show got off to a rough start, but that was more to showcase the fun Stern would have with bad acts, and boy did he have fun. When one terrible singer announced that his parents were dead, Stern asked him if they “died of embarrassment.” After act one, however, we were served William Close, a sculptor and musician who played a giant stage-sized harp. It was pretty incredible, and all of the judges were rightly impressed. We’ll see how far an act like this can go after the novelty has worn off, but for now, at least, it’s original.
Then you’ve got the standards – dance crew, guys on motorbikes, dangerous shooty thing, a kid doing something that you associate with adults doing, Lite Brite dancing of some sort, gross things and a foreign singer. .
Of all the acts on the premiere of ‘AGT,’ two stand out, and they are both father/daughter duet acts. The first is Jorge and Alexa, the YouTube sensations. Their performance of “Home” has been watched by multiple millions, and their sweet chemistry is fun to watch. Little Alexa is the kind of precocious talent that is actually fun to watch. The best act of the night, however, was Maurice and Shanice Hayes, who performed an emotional version of Carol King’s “You Got A Friend.” This father/daughter team are equal parts endearing and exceptionally talented. They are going to be tough to beat.
All in all, the beginning of the Howard Stern era breathed some new life into a franchise that was growing stale and Maurice and Shanice gave us an act to root for.