He’s got a reputation for being outrageous, inappropriate, and downright bawdy, but Howard Stern showed another side — warm, honest, a little bit sentimental — as he made his debut at the America’s Got Talent judges’ table during the show’s Season 7 premiere on Monday.
Oh, sure, Stern still brought the occasional shock to NBC’s cheesy variety show. After asking one deluded singer if his mom or dad had ever dissuaded him from pursuing his music dreams, the guy responded that his parents were dead. “And they died of embarrassment?” Stern deadpanned, scoring a mean but solid laugh. Earlier, when confronted by a woman covered in live cockatiels, Stern surmised (correctly) that her multi-patterned blouse was designed to hide evidence of the bird’s, er, natural functions.
Stern also exhibited a wry chemistry with fellow judges Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne. After the judges and Mandel’s elderly mother rode a malfunctioning backstage elevator in St. Louis, Stern pushed his way off, citing his fear of a disfiguring death. When Mandel teased that Stern had pushed aside an octogenarian to save his own hide, Stern lobbed back the night’s best zinger: “She’s lived long enough!” Plus, she’s dispensable to the show, he added.
Just as important, though, Stern seemed to take very seriously the job of finding a $1 million act. While he chided “instrument inventor” William Close for looking like a hippie, then acted incredulous that the guy made a living teaching his trade in schools (“No wonder China’s beating us!”), the radio host changed his tune when the guy broke out his “Earth Harp” — 3,000 feet of instrument string extended from the stage to the balcony — and played a haunting symphony.
Stern also wasn’t immune to the emotions of everyday folks getting their 15 minutes on a contrived reality show. When the newest member of the energetic Loyalty Dance Team openly wept that his troupe had accepted him as family, Stern congratulated the whole crew on “a beautiful, emotional performance,” then sent ‘em forward to Vegas. Later, he gave 47-year-old “Simply Sergio” a second chance (following a botched “Girl From Ipanema”). When he warbled a decent “God Bless America” — the swelling orchestral music signaled it was better than it actually was — Stern strode up on stage, hugged the trembling waiter, and sent him through to the next round.
It may not have been great talent, but it made AGT a little more tolerable than it usually is.
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