'America's Got Talent' season premiere review: A Stern for the worse?

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Image Credit: Mark Seliger/NBC

Howard Stern joined America’s Got Talent on Monday night, as you know from the publicity blitz he’s been doing on every NBC outlet except for Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. I think he’s recycled the line about how “these executives at NBC are out of their minds taking a risk on me” during every appearance including this America’s Got Talent. He says this, even as, in the next breath, he tells interviewers he “knows how to behave” on prime-time television. A man as intelligent as Stern must have known that this was a losing strategy: Why would he defuse any promise of surprise, or the blunt humor that’s made him so entertaining?

As it turned out, Stern was, for the most part, perfectly fine, especially when placed beside Sharon Osborne and Howie Mandel — he couldn’t help but deliver better commentary. I had forgotten what a tiresome talent show AGT is, and the way the studio audience never encounters a “dance crew” it doesn’t adore. Even so, I was startled that the judges gave full approval to a lame rapper who offered obsequious rhymes about Stern, Osborne, and Mandel. When Mandel asked the rhythm-impaired fellow, “You don’t pre-write that?” and the contestant responded, “That was 100% off the top of my head,” everyone actually seemed to believe him. It was as though they’d been hypnotized into momentary gullibility.

Granted, much of this stuff is a matter of personal taste — maybe you thought the guy who put a scorpion in his mouth really did deserve to be voted through to the next round, even as I, with my soft spot for ventriloquism, enjoyed the vent who spoke through his live dog. To each his own, to a certain extent. But can we all agree that one of the worst moments this evening came not from the contestants, but from the strenuously phony spontaneous chatter between the judges during the sponsored “Snapple Chat” segment?

I like Howard Stern a lot, but I doubt I’ll be sitting through many more AGTs if he’s going to praise a perfectly nice performance by a charming man who played what he called an “earth harp” by saying, “I made my career out of originality, and I bow to you.” That’s laying it on a bit thick. Stern has long proclaimed his fondness for reality-TV junk, and now he’s putting his body where his mouth is. I can respect that, but I don’t have to keep watching it.

May the best act win. As long as it’s not the sobbing Loyalty Dance Crew. Or the guy who can hold a scorpion in his mouth.

What did you think of Stern’s first judge job?

Twitter: @kentucker

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