The Ladies of America's Got Talent: Heidi Klum and Mel B. on What It's Like Judging From the Front Row (But Not Each Other)

Ingela Ratledge
Trae Patton/NBC

Gravity-defying aerialists. A magician and his tiny dog dressed in matching dragon costumes. A dude who can squirt milk out of his eye sockets. Now in its 10th hit season on NBC, America’s Got Talent—a gloriously strange bonanza of acts vying for a $1 million prize—stands proudly alone as the modern-day keeper of vaudeville’s torch. So it’s fitting that the two women currently holding court at the judges’ table have some pretty colorful résumés of their own: German supermodel turned Project Runway poobah Heidi Klum and British multihyphenate entertainer Mel B., a veteran of the mega-band Spice Girls. With the live rounds of the competition about to begin, we sat down with the on- and off-screen pals to chat about their perspective from the front row.

This is the third year that you’re judging alongside satellite-radio shock jock Howard Stern and comedian Howie Mandel. How did it all begin?
Klum: I had been in the running for the job, but then it didn’t happen. I read that Mel got the gig and thought, “Too bad.” Then, all of a sudden—literally three days before we started filming—I got the call while I was on holiday in Hawaii. It was the first time they’d had four judges, and I guess they didn’t want to spill the beans.
Mel B.: I was very happy when they confirmed it. I knew they’d been talking to Heidi and wanted her. I’m a fan of hers, period. She’s a powerhouse!
Klum: I was a fan of Melanie’s too. She does what I would’ve loved to have done: sing. You know, we are all closet singers.
Mel B.: Heidi sings all the time. She has a great voice. It’s very, very high.

Just for the record, then: You actually get along.
Klum: We enjoy each other’s company. You know, it’s good that we’re two girls against two guys on AGT, because it feels like that sometimes. They talk over our heads and make us feel like we’re not there in the middle.
Mel B.: I like working with another woman who’s got her thing together.
Klum: It has always bothered me when people make up these stories that we don’t like each other.
Mel B.: It’s just lazy journalism, someone sitting there saying, “Oh, two women. Let’s do the obvious—catfight!”

Heidi has four kids, Mel has three. Is it mayhem when they all come to set?
Klum: It is not mayhem for us, because we’re used to it!
Mel B.: But for Howard, he’s like, “Can they be quiet?”
Klum: The kids will ask him, “Is your hair real? Is it a wig?” They’re all over him, and he just walks off.

Do you two trade notes on parenting?
Mel B.: We talk a lot about a bunch of things—like sex. Just joking!
Klum: Don’t say you’re joking, because we do talk about sex.
Mel B.: One minute we’ll be talking about our kids, the next we’ll be talking about the act, then it’s our hair and makeup. Heidi is always correcting lashes or something on me. At the end of the day, we’re girly girls.Working girly girls!

Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B., Howie Mandel

(from left) Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B. and Howie Mandel

What secrets from the judges’ table can you spill?
Mel B.: I sit on a cushion this big [holds her arms out wide]. Otherwise I would look so short beside Heidi. Both of us have an obsession with our phones. We’re on them constantly under the desk.
Klum: That drives Howard crazy. He’s like, “You guys should focus.” What should we focus on when it’s a break? Sometimes they have to change around the set for an act, so we sit and wait.
Mel B.: Howie doesn’t sit still. He needs to move around constantly.
Klum: He’s a goofball, but he’s so good with words. He can grab something and make a joke out of it on the spot. It’s amazing.
Mel B.: I don’t always find his jokes that funny, I will be the first to say.
Klum: But 80 percent of the time, [his joking] works.
Mel B.: I would say 50/50.
Klum: The guys love to hear themselves talk. The producer will come up to us and say, “Keep it short.” He’s always looking at me and Mel, but he really means them. He’s too scared to tell them.
Can you usually anticipate how your cohorts will react to a performance?
Klum: I get surprised by Howard, because he always talks about the integrity of the show, but then he will let someone through who whistles like a bird or puts
a balloon through his nose and out his mouth. With me, you can tell what I feel is good and not good.
Mel B.: You don’t like the acts where self-harm is involved.
Klum: Remember the guy who lifted a girl up by his piercings? Disgusting, freak things I am not into.
Mel B.: I don’t mind it! Both Heidi and I are suckers for acts with kids.
Klum: And magic.
Mel B.: If it’s good. Sometimes it’s so janky. We’ll see a guy take a ball and hide it behind his back and it’s like, “Oh, no.”

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Howard has been saying on his radio program that this is his last season of judging on AGT. Who would you like to see replace him?
Klum: He says that every time.
Mel B.: I won’t buy it until I hear it from his mouth. Or Beth [Stern, Howard’s wife] will be the one to tell us! Our panel works really well. Between the four of us, we’ve got every angle of entertainment experience covered, so there would be hard boots to fill if any of us left.
Klum: I love it the way it is.
The live shows at Radio City Music Hall are starting. Do you have to get into a different headspace for that?
Klum: It’s harder on my nerves. Because in the back of my head, I’m thinking that 12 million people are watching, and that’s really frightening. I have these blackout moments where I borderline can’t even remember my own name.
Mel B.: I like the live shows—the energy, the nervousness, the vibe of high-intensity drama it creates. Literally anything can happen. I’ve programmed myself not to say anything too out there, like the F-bomb, for example. Although it has happened.

Since you’re not spending enough time together already, Mel will also be a guest judge on this season of Project Runway. What’s it like being on Heidi’s turf?
Mel B.: Project Runway is her thing, and she’s amazing at it. Heidi, I like how you get up on that runway and you’re in control of everything. You do a speech and you’re very direct and there’s not a bit of nerves.
Klum: It’s kind of my home. Fourteen [seasons] into it, that part
is automatic.

Your jobs are to give your opinion on TV. Does the need to scrutinize ever spill over into the rest of your lives?
Klum: My judging does go over into my normal life. Like I’ll ask a guy at work, “Why did you shave your beard? Why are you not wearing shorts?” Just two days ago, my kids put on a fashion show and set out a chair for me. They were walking around with pillows on their heads, a fake spider on a leash. They told me
to rate them from 1 to 10 and said, “Don’t be nicey-nice because we’re your kids!”
Mel B.: Mine don’t let me judge. They just put on a show, and then that’s it. I’m not allowed to say anything. I’m like, “OK, then. Thank you!”

 Americas’s Got Talent, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,  8/7c, NBC

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