Simon Cowell & Sofia Vergara Talk What’s Back, What’s Been Cut on ‘AGT’

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NBC

The verdict is in: America’s Got Talent is back in business, and nobody is happier about that than Simon Cowell.

NBC’s hit summer reality competition series, which has astonished fans with its wide range of gifted contestants since 2006, faced its most unpredictable season last year. First, AGT grappled with newly implemented pandemic restrictions and safety measures; then, the back injury suffered by executive producer and judge Cowell forced the show to go on without him. He was among the 6.2 million U.S. viewers last September when America crowned Brandon Leake the grand prize winner — earning the spoken word poet $1 million.

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For Season 16, the crew returns in top form — and in front of a live audience — with Cowell alongside returning judges Howie Mandel, Sofía Vergara, Heidi Klum, and host Terry Crews. The exec promises it’ll seem like old times. “After the year we’ve all had, we need normalcy,” Cowell says. Cue the confetti! He and Vergara offer a look at what to expect for the coming season.

Simon’s Back…

An electric bike accident in August required that Cowell undergo spinal surgery and face a lengthy recuperation. He was sidelined for Season 15’s live shows but managed to find a silver lining. “It was surreal to watch from home, but it was also lovely watching with my son Eric and partner Lauren [Silverman],” he says. “America’s Got Talent is a family show, and getting to watch it with my family was good, especially through the eyes of my 7-year-old, [who] loves the magicians and the wacky acts.”

And now? Cowell promises he’s “fitter and healthier than I was this time last year.”

…And the Audience Is Back Too

Goodbye, virtual auditions with poor connections! For Season 16, AGT fans can expect all in-person tryouts. And the current plan is for a (safely distanced) live audience later this summer at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. “Live shows are my favorite — anything can go wrong, and it has done so in the past,” Cowell says. “You’re right on the edge, and I love that feeling.”

Trae Patton/NBC

Cuts Are Cut Loose

Eliminating the Judge Cuts is the biggest change to this year’s format. In Season 15, the cuts, which take place between auditions and the live rounds, occurred in a single episode. This year, the series skips this stage while still offering a peek at the judges’ process of selecting acts moving forward.

Then, after AGT goes on a two-week hiatus during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (which air on NBC Friday, July 23 through Sunday, August 8), the show “comes straight back into the live shows in mid-August,” says Cowell.

Talent as Game as Ever

One thing never changes about AGT: that “T” for talent! “My expectations are pretty high,” says Vergara of the latest crop of performers. As a rookie judge last season, the Modern Family vet was coerced into a little “audience participation” of sorts. “I never thought I would pull a sword out of someone’s throat!” she says of aiding sword-swallower Brett Loudermilk. “I can’t wait to see what this season has in store. I’m up for anything.”

The Texacajuns (Trae Patton/NBC)

Cowell also senses a kind of renewal as pandemic fears ease. “There have been some great contestants who have auditioned and what’s been so interesting to see is how positive they are,” he says. “They’re determined and really want to make a difference.”

AGT By the Numbers

3 Ventriloquists among grand prize winners, most recently Darci Lynne Farmer (2017).

74 Countries and territories beyond the U.S. that have aired Got Talent series, from Albania to Vietnam. (In 2014, Guinness World Records named it the world’s most successful reality-TV format.)

UniCircle Flow (Trae Patton/NBC)

96 Age of the show’s oldest contestant, Season 10 ballroom dancer Tao Porchon-Lynch.

151 Largest number of participants in a single AGT act — Angel City Chorale in Season 13, which gave a stirring rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” on the anniversary of 9/11.

364 Episodes of America’s Got Talent that have aired over the past 15 seasons, not counting the Champions spinoff.

Vertical Show (Trae Patton/NBC)

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