Howie Mandel Teases Meaningful Season 16 of ‘AGT’ with Surprises

America's Got Talent - Season: 16
Trae Patton/NBC

For Howie Mandel, there will be nothing sweeter this summer than season 16 of America’s Got Talent.

The long-time judge is happy to get the band back together. That means the return of executive producer Simon Cowell to the panel, who recovered from his electric bike accident in August. 

“I said, ‘You’re back. No pun intended,’” Mandel joked when asked by TV Insider about the first thing he said to Cowell upon seeing him again in the flesh.  

The comedian added: “I was just happy to see the man in the room standing upright. I was amazed. He came at us with more energy. You know how they say a pregnant woman has that glow? He had that glow…he even says he feels better than before he fell off the bike. He has this energy and is just excited to be alive and back and here. That’s a pervasive feeling on the whole season.” 

They’ll once again be joined by Heidi Klum and Sofia Vergara, with Terry Crews hosting. Vergara’s first season judging involved virtual elements and a number of production changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mandel is happy the actress will get the full AGT experience during her sophomore year. 

“It’s hard to just be the new kid on the block any time. I thought last year she just acclimated wonderfully to a situation I don’t think the world was acclimated to,” he said. “She is probably one of the best additions we’ve had in the history of our show. She is funny, smart and beautiful. She is Sofia…She said [to us], ‘I’ve never had a job like this. This is amazing. This is entertaining.’ That was the first year. Now Simon shows up, and he is sitting beside her and we have an audience. It’s so much better and more exciting than she could ever have dreamed of and shared that with us.” 

A welcome sight and sound for Mandel is having a live (albeit limited) audience again, as well as in-person tryouts. An entertainer in his own right, he feels a renewed energy throughout the theater.  

Howie Mandel

Photo by: Art Streiber/NBC

“It feels like we’ve all been waiting for this light at the end of the tunnel,” Mandel, who joined the NBC competition series in season 5, added. “To hear the roar of the audience, the excitement of an audience, to look at the spark in a performer’s eyes. To look to my left and see everybody there doing what we do and love to do and being together, there is another level that has never really existed in all my years at AGT.” 

The formula of relatable and heartwarming stories unfolding on stage remains the same. The format changes a bit from season 15 where the cuts between auditions and the live rounds that normally take up an episode will be skipped, although the deliberation process of what acts move forward will be documented. 

“There are a couple of surprises where we just did things that have never been seen before. I’m talking about the judging process,” Mandel teased. “In the mechanics of the show, we took some liberties. I think we’re going to surprise the audience a few times. For production purposes, we just wanted to make it more entertaining, a less drawn-out production than we have. The process is basically the same. 

“We talk constantly, even off-camera, and are legitimately passionate about who is chosen to go all the way to the live shows,” Mandel added. “The actual process is the same. The location is different. We were at Simon’s house instead of in a studio, which was nicer because I didn’t have to use a public restroom. That’s all I can remember. I have to tell you Simon’s guest towels are to die for.” 

When it comes to assessing the acts, Mandel believes he has become more comfortable presenting honest critiques. This came with time and experience. 

“There were things at the beginning when I started that I hated. I didn’t like or want to see it. For the life of me, I wouldn’t have told you or would have expressed it like that because I was afraid the audience at home would turn on me. Then I realized I’d been there long enough, and I would never want to hurt anybody’s feelings or offend anybody. I think we do an act of service by being totally honest. I have become more honest and more unedited than I have ever been, especially this season.” 

Howie Mandel

Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC

No matter how many seasons, there is one thing Mandel will never enjoy. That’s being part of a performer’s act. And it extends further than just being a noted germophobe. 

“Aside from my own personal issues, I find it, incredibly, a lot of pressure,” he said. “I realize each and every one of these moments where you’re called on the stage is a life-changing moment. They’re either going to do great or crash. It’s even worse being in the middle because you’ll be forgetful. So when you’re asked to be part of an act as a judge you feel the responsibility of doing everything correctly. And if things don’t go well, a piece of that is your fault. That weighs really heavy.” 

That doesn’t mean Mandel doesn’t get in on the fun—if one reads the recent teasers for the new season correctly—especially with his fellow judges. And that includes getting a little pie in one’s face. 

“I don’t even know if that’s part of the show or not. It is part of what we did for the promo. The truth is, that was us having fun. That was not a planned moment,” he said. “We’re four or five adults including Terry that when we are on that set, we’re kids in a candy store at a drop-off party where anything can happen, and it does. 

“Besides the mess we make, we break some rules. I know some of those things, without giving away any spoilers, have been left in the show. We were just so excited to be anywhere that we acted like four-year-olds, broke the rules, went crazy, and had the time of our lives.” 

America’s Got Talent, Season Premiere, Tuesday, June 1, 8/7c