Bad news for contestants who auditioned earlier this month in Rosemont for NBC's "America's Got Talent": The celebrity judges admit that they were harder on those acts than in other audition cities.
"In the beginning I was much nicer," said internationally famous supermodel Heidi Klum, one of two new judges added for the eighth season of "America's Got Talent."
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"The (Rosemont) audiences booed me a couple of times because I didn't put through some acts," said famed radio shock jock and returning judge Howard Stern. "It's only because they haven't seen what we've seen. I'm comparing it to the whole country."
Though that's bad news for many of the acts that made it through the general Chicago auditions held this past January at McCormick Place, it does give boasting rights for those local viewers who sat through the free tapings since they will already know in advance whether some acts made it through to compete for the ultimate $1 million prize.
"America's Got Talent" returns this summer starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 4. The show's "Chicago" episode, drawn from tapings at the 4,300-seat Rosemont Theatre between May 8-10, followed stops in New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York and San Antonio, Texas.
Rosemont audiences also got an early look at the newly reconfigured celebrity judging panel. In addition to Klum, Spice Girls veteran Melanie Brown (aka Mel B, or "Scary Spice") was also tapped to replace outgoing judge Sharon Osbourne. Along with Stern, comedian Howie Mandel returns to the panel and host Nick Cannon is also back on board.
So with four judges instead of the usual three, does that mean there's more jostling to get words in edgewise? Have there been any poisonous judging panel feuds yet? After all, the just-finished season of Fox's "American Idol" seemed to generate more publicity about the bad blood between judges than the singing contestants.
"You have four very strong opinionated personalities from four completely different walks of life in entertainment who believe that each of us has the correct point of view," said Mandel during an "America's Got Talent" judging panel interview with the Daily Herald at the Rosemont Theatre. "But we respectfully hear and argue among each other and hopefully that makes for interesting television."
"The only time I get upset is when Howard pushes my buzzer," said Klum.
"He's done that to me, too!" said Brown.
Mandel then made an innuendo-filled comment about the definition of "buzzer," clarifying that they're the red buttons judges press to illuminate the big "Xs" onstage to show displeasure with an act.
Stern jumped in to defend his rule-breaking buzzing.
"Can I be honest about why I do it?" Stern said. "It's because it's obvious when someone is so bad, I take over."
"That's not allowed," Klum said.
"It's in the rule book," Brown added.
"Listen, I do what I want," Stern said. "It makes the show."
Though Klum and Brown are new to "America's Got Talent," they're both experienced when it comes to judging reality TV competitions. Mandel was quick to highlight Brown's experience of judging the Australian edition of "X Factor" and appearing as a guest judge for the British version of that singing competition. Klum, of course, is famed for being a sharp-tongued judge and host of Lifetime's fashion reality TV competition "Project Runway." She also hosts "Germany's Next Top Model."
"But the biggest critic on fashion has been Howard," said Mandel.
Stern proudly proved that Mandel wasn't joking when he boasted that he instantly recognized Klum's pricey Christian Louboutin shoes from their trademark red soles.
"You know why? We're talking about show business. You have to pay attention to your look," Stern said. "Everyone likes to pretend to be politically correct, that it doesn't matter. But you see some pop stars today -- they're not necessarily the most talented people, but they know how to put their look together and people do respond to a look."
As for how the four celebrity judges will work as a team, they all had praise for each other at this juncture.
"You can't predict what America's going to like," Stern said. "I think the judging panel sounds great this year. It's been energetic, it's been exciting, but ultimately America will decide."
"Ultimately, it's not about us," Mandel said. "It's about them: the contestants."