this season, it’s not your imagination.
NBC’s top-rated summer series returns for its third season Tuesday, with judges David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan all returning to man their Buzzers of Doom. Contestants will also have to face a large, and vocal, live audience in each city, which is either very cranky or has been instructed to make their feelings known.
The audience (in the past, fellow auditioners were the only ones in the seats) is a wrinkle executive producer Simon Cowell imported from the British version of the show. It can make for compelling, avert-your-eyes-no-I-can’t TV as subpar hopefuls wither under the scorn of a thousand or so people.
"This is a very, very tough show for people to audition on," says Cowell, who delivers his own sharp opinions as an American Idol judge. "… The audience on these shows are brutal.
"So whereas on Idol we would let someone sing for five or ten seconds, on this show if they don’t like someone — I mean, they’re after blood. So it’s a very raw experience you’re going to see this time."
There’s a flip side to all that, though. Cowell and the show’s producers have made an effort to expand the storytelling element of America’s Got Talent, so in Tuesday’s premiere viewers will learn a lot about an opera-singing insurance salesman and a 4-year-old singer, among others. And as often as not, unlike Idol, the profiles tend to lead into successful, or at least slightly endearing, performances on stage.
"You really see how much this means to them, how hard they’re trying, how mom is backstage, tears coming down because, by God, she never thought her daughter would have enough strength to stand up there and really try and have enough confidence," host Jerry Springer notes. "I think people at home really relate to it. It’s what is compelling about the show."
There is that — and there are, of course, the acts that probably deserve to be booed. At NBC’s summer press day last month, Morgan recalled one woman by the name of Busty Hart.
"She had one of the world’s biggest cleavages, and her act was that she liked to break things with her breasts," Morgan says. "She broke some bricks."
"I wouldn’t count that as unusual," Cowell interjects.
"Well, I think Simon is quite used to this kind of thing. … I’m not quite sure what that was about," Morgan continues. "But her final part of the act was to break two watermelons, which had pictures of David and me on them. And she just smashed them to pieces. It was very scary."
America’s Got Talent premieres at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBC. Looking forward to it? Are you in for the deluded and demented, or do you like the folks who are genuinely good?