Sofia Vergara on Learning to Judge ‘America’s Got Talent’ After ‘Modern Family’

Sofia Vergara America's Got Talent
Tyler Golden/NBC

The talent show must go on! Season 15 of the summer reality staple America’s Got Talent, which halted production in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, is preparing to deliver a brand-new experience to fans—remotely.

Luckily, most of the vocalists, hip-hop troupes, daredevils, comedians and other variety acts in Talent’s stable were able to audition in person in Pasadena, California earlier this year. But now, host Terry Crews and judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and new addition Sofía Vergara are performing their duties from home.

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This transition is particularly tricky for Vergara, fresh off her time playing fiery Gloria Pritchett on the Emmy-winning comedy Modern Family. “It’s been super weird,” Vergara notes. “I was starting to get the groove of the show and then suddenly all of this happened, unfortunately.” She clues us in on her introductory season.

How does it feel doing something like AGT after so many years of scripted comedy on Modern Family—are there any similarities?

Sofía Vergara: No, it’s like nothing I had ever done before, acting-wise. Actually, I think it was the best decision that I took this [gig]. When Modern Family was ending, I was wondering what I was going to do. And the odds of an actress [getting] another show like Modern Family — Emmy winner, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, all of those nominations — were going to be very small. It doesn’t really happen that often. So when they offered me this opportunity with America’s Got Talent I thought, this is perfect because it’s completely different than when I was doing. It’s difficult, but very fun.

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Speaking of Modern Family, which one of your former costars could you see on AGT?

[Laughs] No one. They [have talents], but they’re actors. Eric Stonestreet, he can be a clown.

How would you describe your judging style?

Well, when they asked me to do the show, I was like, ‘What? How am I going to judge anyone? What do I know about anything? I’m not an expert in singing or dancing or magic.’ And then I realized that the judges are just there to represent the people at home. They’re not experts in anything. So, I just want to be there, represent, and try to be honest. If you’re an expert in nothing like me, it’s very dangerous to pretend you are one.

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What’s the biggest challenge you’ve found while shooting from home?

We’re so grateful that we can actually do this and finish the whole season. Of course, it’s not the same. You miss the audience, that energy. The music sounds better when you’re on the stage. The lights make everything better. But now, you see the people in their own houses—it’s very intimate. And you have to also be aware that the sound is not perfect. You have to be using more of your imagination as to how this act would look on a stage.

What are your favorite and least favorite types of acts?

I love when I get surprised. Like [if it’s] a little girl and then suddenly her voice [sounds] like a woman, and you close your eyes and you can’t realize it’s this tiny 10-year-old. Or when somebody looks very serious, and then suddenly he’s a really good comedian. I’m learning, but I am enjoying the surprises. One thing I didn’t realize is that I don’t love the sound of the ukulele. [Laughs]

It’s super fun, you’re being entertained for hours! There are people with so many talents, it’s unbelievable [what] human beings can do.

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Did any acts move you to tears?

Oh my god, yes. There were a couple of things that I could relate to, what the contestant was going through that I had gone through in my life that really moved me. But when that happens, you also want to be fair. You [have] to be honest about the talent.

You’re also participating a lot—you got to pull a sword from someone’s throat onstage!

It’s nerve-racking [being on stage] because you don’t know what they’re going to do and you have to play it cool. I [didn’t] want to say no, because I’m just starting on the show, so I said yes to everything. That act with the sword was really crazy.

Mitchell Haddad/NBC

How was your first time meeting the judges?

I felt, at the beginning, like it was my first day at school. I had maybe seen them once or twice [before]. I was a little, not nervous, but excited to meet them. I had been working for 11 years with a group of people that became my real family, you know? It was super weird, like we never had a problem. And so, what are the odds that I’m going to come to a new show immediately? I had only had one week off from Modern Family. Then, the moment I sat there, they were all helping me, giving me tips, just super nice. I really feel so lucky.

What are you doing to stay busy during self-quarantine right now?

I have to say, I’ve been very busy. We’ve been doing America’s Got Talent. I’ve been doing a lot of videos for charities and I am also working on my own charity. I am also helping in the house because I am quarantining with my husband [actor Joe Manganiello], my son, my niece, my two dogs, and you know, I don’t have the staff that I would usually have, so we’re all helping with the house. Everybody has their jobs, their chores, their responsibilities. I have to say, I am grateful that I’m in a house with my favorite people in the world. We can work out, be with each other, watch TV. We’re not allowed to complain because there are people that are really having a hard time with this. We don’t allow anyone to complain in the house. No one gets bored here. There’s always something to do and if you’re bored, you know you’re wrong.

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That’s a good motto. What TV shows are you watching during self-quarantine?

I watched Tiger King in March when that came out. I can only watch the news at certain times now. Everybody in the house got mad at me, so now I can only watch a little in the morning and after 6pm. And then, I was so lucky that I had never watched Mad Men and my husband said, ‘You have to watch [it], I’ll even watch it again with you.’ Now I’m obsessed.

America’s Got Talent, Season 15 Premiere, Tuesday, May 26, 8/7c, NBC