Simon Cowell and Mel B
Keeping Watch on America’s Talent
by Abby Bekele
America’s Got Talent returned to TV for its 11th season this year with returning judges, Howie Mandel, Mel B and Heidi Klum, along with host Nick Cannon. This year a new member was added to the judges’ panel – although he is not new to the show at all – the creator of America’s Got Talent and longtime television judge, Simon Cowell.
Mel B, or “Scary Spice” as some people might know her from her days with the pop group The Spice Girls, is in her fourth season judging on America’s Got Talent. Mel B is a widely-known singer, actress, author, television personality and entrepreneur. She began her judging career on The X Factor UK working alongside her current fellow judge, Cowell.
Simon Cowell is known for many, many things, including his very honest opinions when judging, his success creating Syco Music, being behind such big name’s like One Direction, Fifth Harmony, Little Mix, Susan Boyle and more. Simon has been judging on television for quite some time now. He began on a UK talent show called Pop Idol, became a sensation when he joined the team at the US version of the show: American Idol. After several successful years on AI, he moved on to The X Factor UK, which he then brought over to the US for a few seasons. Cowell also created and has judged on both Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent.
On Monday July 25th, we were one of several media companies on a conference call to speak with judges Mel B and Simon Cowell about their experiences on the show, their favorite acts and much more.
It seems so hard to compare different types of acts – like singing to magic, or things that are so different. Are there some certain criteria, or ways you figure that out?
Simon Cowell: It’s a good question. I’ll tell you what happens. Like you said, there is no way any judge in the world can be an expert on everything. We’re judging everything from dogs to jugglers to singers. Sometimes – actually a lot of the time – you have to put it down to: Do you want to see that act again? Do you think they can improve? And, how are you feeling in that moment, to be honest with you. I do look back on the shows sometimes, with the people we do put through. I’m thinking: what were you thinking at the time? I mean there’s no logic to it. But that’s what makes this show fun. There are no rules. There’s no scoring system you could possibly use when you’re judging some of these crazy acts.
Mel B: Do you want me to add onto that?
Simon Cowell: What do you think Mel? Yes.
Mel B: Yes. I mean I basically judge on if I’m entertained or not. No matter what their act is. Whether it’s a danger act, a singer, or something that’s just really abstract that I’ve never seen before. If I’m entertained, if I say to myself, “Oh my God, I would pay to go watch that show in Vegas,” then I’m going to vote yes all day long.
The audience gets to see clips about the people before they go on stage. Do you guys know anything about the people before they come out? Or do you really just find out when they get onstage?
Simon Cowell: [We know] Nothing.
Mel B: It’s a surprise.
Simon Cowell: I ask for them to tell us absolutely zero about anybody. Look, sometimes [the producers] might say there’s something sensitive, don’t go there. But that’s really, really rare. Our job, funny enough – when we talk to them on stage – is to find out what we can. What they want to tell us. Not knowing makes it much more fun and interesting for us, and the audience sitting behind us, I think. Of course, the audience at home to know everything that we don’t know.
Mel B: I was just about to say that. Simon took the words out of my mouth. I am a very, very nosy person. I like to find out a bunch of stuff before they act. I think the audience appreciates that, because we’re seeing it just like they are – for the very first time. I think that comes across.
Are there some key indicators you look for when evaluating the success of the act being a long-term success or a one hit wonder? Do you think about that while you’re evaluating their performance?
Mel B: I don’t. I like to just react to what I’m seeing there and then. Heidi [Klum] sometimes says, “But what are you going to do next?” To me, I don’t care what they’re going to do next. All I know is I’m in that moment and I’m thoroughly entertained. Sometimes I think to myself it’s better left unsaid. Better not to even ask. It is more of a surprise the second time around. Sometimes even though they seem like a one hit wonder, they can pull some stuff out of the bag in the next time that you see them that you wouldn’t have even thought of.
Simon Cowell: Yes. I agree actually with what Mel said. In this day and age it’s almost impossible to predict that kind of stuff, because so many factors have to happen after the show. If you look at One Direction or Susan Boyle, I mean I don’t think any of us when we first worked with both acts could have possibly have predicted what was going to happen next. A lot of times it comes down to the act. It’s got to be in them that they are going to push and fight for a successful career afterwards. Some people do it and some people don’t. Sometimes when we’re sitting doing the audition – with Grace as an example, this is the little girl who played the ukulele – and she had this massive response of the show. Genuinely on the day I thought she was good. I didn’t think she’d get that response. It really took me by surprise. I mean, I was happy for her. But the same thing with Tape Face. I thought yes, that was funny. Then he gets like 30, 40 million hits on YouTube or something. You just can’t predict things anymore.
Mel B: He went viral big time.
Simon Cowell: Yes. Which is good. I like that.
I look at these numbers for the social media views, which are just astonishing. Do you think those people have the edge?
Simon Cowell: Well, I don’t know. I suppose yes. If someone gets traction on social media, there’s a reason for it. This show was always designed to take advantage of social media in the hopes that you would have that secondary window, so that people get to know about the acts that they’ve missed on the show and they come back and watch the show. That’s not always the case that they’re going to win. The year that Susan Boyle got more social media than I’ve ever seen in my life on an act – she was the red-hot favorite in the final to win. She got beaten by a dance act who on the night was just better. No one expected that to happen. They’re a group called Diversity and they were amazing. Sometimes it works for you. Then other times on the night someone else does better and then you don’t win. It’s good unpredictability I think.
Why do you think singers are so hot this season? And also, what’s your temperature on Sal? He was a former Idol guy.
Simon Cowell: Well, we did do a lot of work in advance to tell a lot of singers, all the singers in fact, to trust the show because the show’s always done well. I don’t think we’ve had enough good singers turning up for the show in the past. So we all made a huge effort this year. I did a lot of radio interviews basically trying to put the message out: look, you can trust the show. Singers can do well on this show, as well as the variety acts. It was a combination of that [and] the producers cast it very well. People just wanted to be on the show. They were judged well on the show. You could see that when you watched the singers back. You had a panel on who really liked the same kind of music, which really helped.
How did you like it when you had Louis there on the panel?
Simon Cowell: Louis is great. It was so funny and it was so odd, that he had auditioned for me five years ago. Now he’s sitting where I’m sitting judging other people and doing it really well. I was really happy for him and he loved doing it.
Well the One Direction guys are going in the right direction. You’ve got Liam with the solo album. I don’t know if you’ve heard the new music and I’m sure it’s awesome. But…
Simon Cowell: Yes. We are talking to all of them at the moment. The great thing about these boys – well not all of them but most of them – they’re incredibly loyal. You don’t always expect that. Niall, Harry, Louis, amazing.
We already heard a little bit about singers. What do you think they individually do to differentiate from each other and stand out to people voting at home?
Mel B: It’s all about being really clever with your song choices. If you’re going to choose a popular song, which will always go down well, you have to put your own twist on it. So I think they’ve got to really do their research and put their own stamp, especially if you’re a singer. When I look at the light show as a whole, you have everything there from… you know, we’ve got a 90-year-old stripper. We’ve got a footballer that does magic. We’ve got so many different genres of acts that are really good and really entertaining. The singing performances and acts that have gone through are really, really good too. What’s been great this season so far is everybody’s back-story. They really are hungry for this. They’re not just doing it because they’re talented and somebody told them to do it. They’re actually on this show to really, really win and be a serious competitor. That raises up the stakes and raises up the ante, especially with live shows because with live shows anything can happen.
Simon Cowell: Very good darling. I like the fact that you started with the 90-year-old stripper.
Mel B: Yes. She’s great. I mean what other…
Simon Cowell: It’s all about relating to her, though isn’t it? What?
Mel B: I said what other show do you get to see that on but next to a singer?
Simon Cowell: Not many. But they’re always welcome. I think your point about the singers is, what I’ve noticed this year particularly on the show is it’s been a learning curve for me. A big learning curve because I think the old rules are starting to go now. There was a pattern when we first started these shows. There was a kind of a formula for what people should or shouldn’t do. Now it’s all about showing people who you are. If you’ve got the confidence in who you are, you stick with it. We’ve seen a couple of singers who have suddenly popped on the show like Brian, because he did what he felt passionate about and he took a risk. You never know what’s going to work in the room or what’s going to work through TV. But this guy has really popped and he’s been honest.
Paul Telegdy said to me before we started this show – he came over to the house and we had the judges – as he walked out the door, he said, “The one thing I love about America’s Got Talent is that we’re an inclusive show.” That stuck in my head. People have seen with this show, and it’s important to know this, everyone’s got the confidence now to say this is who I am. I’m proud of it. They’re welcome on this show because I don’t get rules of talent shows. I’ve never understood them. There’s an age range, or this, or that. If you’re talented, you’re up for it. The 90-year-old guy proves that. The singer. He was brilliant. Then goes on to one of the coolest bands in the world. I think that’s what people, and certainly what I like about the show this year. It feels fresh.
Mel B: It does.
Just in talking a little bit about Golden Buzzers and the judges… do you both think that there’s a little bit of an inherent disadvantage of going into these live shows and they’ve only performed once whereas everybody else has performed twice? Or do you think that just having that attachment to each one of you as judges is enough to cancel that out?
Simon Cowell: That’s a very good point, because you can argue it’s an advantage or a disadvantage because like you said, you’ve had one less performance. I like them a lot. That started about four years on the show in the UK. Then we brought it over here. It’s interesting how much the audience in the room love it. When they really like someone, they start screaming “Golden Buzzer! Golden Buzzer.” It’s a badge of honor. It puts a certain amount of pressure on the contestants, but I think it’s good pressure. It’s a good thing. It’s going to be interesting to see how the people who are in the judge cuts now compete with the people who have the Golden Buzzers. I think it makes it more interesting.
Mel B: If I can add to that, I also think it makes them feel that little bit more like confident. If they had a little bit of self-doubt, hopefully it will have gone. For example, my Golden Buzzer Laura, she was so timid and almost a bit frail. As soon as she started to sing, it was almost like she couldn’t even believe how great her voice was. The fact that she got that Golden Buzzer, I think somewhere inside of her – a bridge. It’s like: Yes! I’ve been approved ahead of time. I think it’s going to boost their confidence a little bit.
Simon Cowell: Actually what it really is, it’s just a real stamp to show how much you like it. I think when you watch it back on the show; I think it looks great that moment. I really like it.
It’s great to have you back. How do you think you’ve changed as a judge?
Simon Cowell: I mean…
Mel B: Oh, let me tell you.
Simon Cowell: …I think I was edited badly years ago is the honest truth. I haven’t always been rude. Maybe at times I get a little bit frustrated, but I actually like most of the acts. You just never saw that before.
But bad editing, huh?
Simon Cowell: Well, I wouldn’t say bad. I’d call it selective.
What do you think of Orlando juggler Viktor Kee’s chances?
Simon Cowell: I like him. I really do. Again, his story, when we found out about it afterwards was very sad. But he’s a real showman that guy. I could see him in Vegas or somewhere. Normally, if I’m being honest with you, I can’t bear those kind of acts. Soon as someone says the word juggler it’s “oh God, this is going to be awful.” But he was brilliant. He’s such a fascinating person. It’s quite interesting because I’ve done this show for ten years in England. Often after you’ve done the auditions, you forget 90 percent of the people afterwards because it’s just a blur. But on this show, with people like him, because they were so different, you do remember them. He’s got an interesting personality. Look, I think it’s going to be tough for him up against some of the better-known acts. But you never know on this show.
We have two Chicago area acts this week – Laura, the opera singer and Musicality, the group from the Southwest side – the ensemble group. So Mel, you mentioned Laura before but I’m curious looking back at all the acts now, are you glad that she was your Golden Buzzer?
Mel B: Oh my God, yes. Are you kidding me? I said this earlier: She was just so timid. I actually got worried for her when she was talking in the pre-chat, [that] she wasn’t actually going to be able to deliver. Then she started singing and a whole new world opened. I mean I’m so glad that I hit my Golden Buzzer for her. I mean yes. She was great. What else can I say about her?
Musicality came on and they were the final act to get the go ahead. Did you at all consider their backstory and some of the pain that they sang through in this last audition?
Simon Cowell: Yes. It really made [a difference]. One of the first questions was about the back-stories. They were very open with us when they came on the stage and told us where they were from, what life was like, some of the disadvantages they’ve had to deal with. They used to rehearse in a stairwell and stuff like that. Every single one of those people you could see it in their eyes how much it meant to them. The guy who was the conductor and their musical director is a fantastic guy. They’ve really, really done well together. They’re the sort of group who you really want to do well. They work hard. They definitely improved from the first audition to the second audition. That’s one of those yeses you love giving, because you could see how much it meant to them. Again, what I’m hearing through the producers during the rehearsal is that they’ve stepped up again. This has given them the confidence, this show and the reaction they’ve had to carry doing. I think they’ll inspire a lot of people. I learned a lot about the whole art education program here, which has been slashed to pieces. So it’s important that a group like this is represented and do well and they’re fun. I like them.
Mel B: I think as well; you want to root for the underdog. At the end of the day it’s down to America to vote. You want to have that story that connects with people. It’s not a false story. That’s just the way that they live and they’re dealing with whatever’s happened to them. I mean the guy had his sister killed. You’re heartbroken after that.
Simon Cowell: Yes. It was tragic. You felt for him. Like I said, that’s one of those moments where you just love giving them a yes and watch the reaction back on TV. They were fantastic. I think both of those groups from your area have got a shot in the next round.
Everyone else has mentioned how many amazing acts there are this season and I think this is why it’s personally my favorite season to watch. For the both of you, if you had to pick one act, who are you most excited to see and why?
Simon Cowell: Okay. Mel, you go first on this because I’ve got to think about this one.
Mel B: This is really, really, really hard. When I look at the list of all the 30, 40 people that are going to be through to the live shows, they all hold a special place inside me. I’ve agreed with nearly every single act that is going through. But I have to say, in the break in between interviews right now, I was raving about the dance group that was George Lopez’s Golden Buzzer: Malevo, Malevo. I love a dance group. Not everybody on the panel does. The way that they came out with such power and passion, it was just hot. So I’m super excited to see these guys. They’re one of my favorites, obviously apart from my own Golden Buzzer. I cannot wait to see what they bring to the stage because I know it’s going to be on fire.
Simon Cowell: You know what? This is really difficult and it is a good question. I was teasing you but it’s a good question because I can’t… I’m sort of fascinated to see what the 90-year-old stripper’s going to do next. I was never in this position before. I mean does she take more off or does she get the tassels to work this time? I don’t know. At the same time, I’m obviously excited about the singers, because that’s an important part of the show. And my own Golden Buzzer Calysta, I’ve got a soft spot for her because I loved her story and I love her and I think she’s really good. I like Grace. I’m really curious to see what she’s going to do next.
Mel B: Sal we’ve spoken about is a real talent.
Simon Cowell: I like the guy who drills things into himself. I like Tape Face. There’s not many people who I’m disappointed about. Normally at this stage there’s about ten I actually care about. This year fortunately there’s a lot more than that. I think there’s going to be a lot of surprises because America’s taking over the show for the first time as of tomorrow, so we’ve completely lost control of it. I’m fascinated to see what they’re going to do with it.
Mel B: Can I add to that? What I’m excited to see is the kids, because I do feel like this season the kids have just popped out of nowhere with such confidence. I’m really excited to see what they’re going to bring, especially the two young comedians.
Simon Cowell: And you know what? I think this guy Brian who I talked about earlier… he hasn’t got the biggest personality. He was quite shy when he first performed with us. But he sang “Creep” in the second round and I thought he was superb; really, really good. I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do because he’s a big singer and he’s got great taste. So like I said, I think there’s going to be some surprises. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen but I’m really looking forward now to tomorrow.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 6, 2016.
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