He’s baaack! On Tuesday, May 31, Simon Cowell returned to the judges’ table — this time for America’s Got Talent’s season 11 premiere.
In case you missed it, Howard Stern (rather suddenly) departed the hit show after four seasons of appraising the performers, and now Cowell — who also happens to have created the show — has taken the shock jock’s place. The American Idol alum joins mainstay judges Howie Mandel, Mel B and Heidi Klum, along with host Nick Cannon.
Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin won season 10 and snapped up the $1 million prize before heading to Las Vegas, where he headlined at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.
Read on for Us Weekly‘s minute-by-minute updates as the blunt Cowell weighed in on the showbiz hopefuls! (Start at the bottom of this post if you want to read it in chronological order.)
9:59 p.m. ET: 13-Year-Old Laura Belts Out Some Opera
It’s not over until the teenager sings — or something like that. Thirteen-year-old Laura blew all the judges away as she belted out a few minutes’ worth of opera. When she finished, she was in tears (of relief), and all four judges were on their feet. Heidi called her gift “unbelievable,” and Simon revealed he didn’t think she was going to be able talk, let alone sing.
He said he had never heard anything like it in all of his years. “What made it even better is that you are such a sweet person, so humble,” Cowell said. Howie agreed it was amazing, and Mel B. then hit the Golden Buzzer to secure Laura’s fate. (The Golden Buzzer works!)
9:45 p.m. ET: Everyone Is Forced to Watch the Grossest Magic Show Ever
Umm. Well, a man did some tricks involving putting a meat hook in his nose and out his mouth … and that was just the beginning. Heidi couldn’t handle the ick factor, but the other three judges said yes. No comment.
9:36 p.m. ET: Simon Calls a Performer — Who Doesn’t Say a Word — ‘Brilliant’
It was one of the stranger acts to perform on the show, but perhaps one of the best. While the genius behind the routine never spoke a word (not even his name!), his performance did all the talking. With his mouth covered in duct tape, he began by “singing” “Endless Love” via puppets … made out of oven mitts. Then he transitioned to “Lady in Red” with his very own lady … which, honestly, you have to see in order to appreciate. All of the judges loved it, but Simon was totally gaga, calling it “simple, clever, unique, funny and brilliant.” Seriously, Simon’s sweet streak has to run out soon, right?
9:30 p.m. ET: Charlie and Rose Aren’t Good — But Simon Loves Them Anyway
They met at bereavement counseling. They started flirting and got kicked out of the group. Then they got married. Then they performed at America’s Got Talent. They were terrible, but it hardly mattered because they were so charming. Simon called it “one of the worst acts” he’d ever seen, but admitted he couldn’t take his eyes off them.
Simon questioned whether he should go with his head or his heart … and he went with his heart, giving them the third yes they needed to go through. (Heidi said no; Mel and Howie said yes.) There was no doubt about it: Simon was being nice!
9:18 p.m. ET: Simon Invites a Contestant to Live With Him
Not sure he had a chance to run this invitation by Lauren Silverman first, but in a moment of unbridled joy, Simon invited a contestant to come and live with him. After Hara performed a routine involving lots of fancy animated graphics and magic (some of which was undoubtedly lost over the broadcast compared to seeing it live), Simon said it made him so happy he “just didn’t want it to end.”
The judge then proceeded to invite the Japanese native to “come back and live with me.” For the record, the other judges were equally impressed — though none of them offered to be Hara’s new roommates — and he went through to the next round with flying colors.
9:02 p.m. ET: Simon’s Son and Baby Mama Came to Set
A Spice Girls drag group was the first dud of the night. While the five performers clearly couldn’t really sing or dance, Simon thought they were still “better than the original” and declared, “This is what the girls could have been like if they could sing.” To be fair, though, he was laughing, so it was hard to take him too seriously.
More importantly, however: In the midst of a montage showing the judges goofing off backstage, Simon could be seen hanging out on a sofa with his baby mama, Silverman, as their son, Eric, milled about nearby. Eventually, Eric curled up between his parents, and Simon seemed perfectly happy with that. Also, in case you hadn’t seen any pics recently, Simon’s son is supercute.
8:44 p.m. ET: Linkin Bridge Is Not What They Seem
Though the four members of Linkin Bridge were rather soft-spoken (and dressed like hip-hop artists), they dazzled with their a cappella version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which Simon called “sensational.” They, too, flew through with four yeses — and then the group members all broke down in tears.
8:35 p.m. ET: Simon Calls One Contestant a Witch (But It’s a Compliment!)
Though it would be hard to beat the dancing dog, a clairvoyant named Amelie managed to do so. As her partner (who she is dating, just for the record) pulled random items out of people’s handbags, a blindfolded Amelie guessed details, such as the exact number of the shade of Heidi’s lipstick, and the expiration date on Howie’s eyedrops.
How said it was the “most amazing thing” he’d ever seen, while Mel said she felt like she was in the twilight zone. Heidi called it “absolutely incredible,” and Simon said there was only explanation — and that the explanation was that Amelie was “a witch.” Needless to say, this pair sailed through too.
8:28 p.m. ET: Simon Wishes His Dog Could Dance
Jose Fuentes danced with his partner, Carrie (who happened to be a dog). Heidi got bored after the first 15 seconds, but Simon admitted he wished his dog could do that. Simon, Mel and Howie all gave the dancing duo yeses, which put them through, despite Heidi’s no. More importantly, however, Simon seemed to actually be … nice?
8:16 p.m. ET: Introducing the Golden Buzzer (Also, Simon Cowell Is Back)
Two major changes were highlighted from minute one: First, Simon Cowell has taken Howard Stern’s place (but you knew that already). Second, there’s a thing called the Golden Buzzer. By pushing it, a judge can send an act straight through to the live shows — but each judge can only call upon this magic button once this season, so they can’t just go crazy or anything.
In other news, Simon didn’t bother to shower or shave (OK, he may have showered) before showing up to work. Also, the first victim of the season — er, we mean contestant — performed. He was Nate, a 6-year-old comedian who stole all of the judges’ hearts (even Simon’s) and sailed through with four yeses.
Tell Us: What did you think of Simon as a judge?
America’s Got Talent airs on NBC Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
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