“America’s Got Talent” was one of the first shows to resume production following the coronavirus shutdowns.
Host and executive producer, Simon Cowell, who initially had his doubts about how the team would be “able to put the show out this year,” told People that he was surprisingly a fan of the recent changes, particularly the new Judge Cuts format.
One of the biggest changes was moving the in-studio set outside to an open lot in Simi Valley, California, which was set up as a drive-in movie theater.
On the first day, Cowell, along with the other judges Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, and “Modern Family” alum Sofia Vergara, held video chats with the acts to inform them whether or not they advanced forward to the live shows.
A total of 10 contestants were chosen to film pre-taped performances, which the judges watched outside on a big screen after arriving in separate cars.
"I got goosebumps. [The format] was something I'd never seen before and we pulled it off. It was just a challenge and you realize there is no one way of doing things," Cowell told the outlet.
He explained that the changes could become permanent in the future. "With any job, you could get into a habit of 'this is how things were done before, so there's only one way in doing it in the future.' If you could change something for the better, do it," he said.
"This was one of those opportunities, we were forced to do something different. As judges, we were seeing things unfold in front of us and it was new and exciting," Cowell said, adding the production followed all the safety protocols with judges sitting six feet apart.
Safety was the franchise’s main concern.
"I can't explain what it felt on the day but it was like, 'Thank God we were able to get back to work and everyone is safe. No performances were compromised,’” he said.
Other changes included trimming down the Judge Cuts episodes to one as opposed to the usual four, a change Cowell said he regrets.
"In hindsight, now having seen it, I wish we would've done four episodes. That's my only frustration. I think personally it's an effective way to do a Judge Cuts show than what we previously had done," he says.
However, he was impressed with what the crew was able to accomplish on a whim: “I walked around the corner and saw what they built. I did ask them to make sure the screen was as big as possible. It was incredible."
The level of production for performances was also higher than ever before. "We wanted to find a place where they could do the best possible performance. Each one had to be bespoke and had to feel original to them," Cowell explained. "When we watched the performances, it didn't occur to me for one second that there was no audience or they're not actually in front of us. It was surreal."
Despite the drawbacks of not having the usual live shows, Cowell said the pandemic challenged them and allowed them to create a one-of-a-kind stage.
"In a weird way, it was the best format we've ever done," he explained, adding, “there are different ways of doing things if you put your mind to it. We have a production team that doesn't take no for an answer."
Cowell also admits that it was “harder to say yes or no to people on the first part of the show” even though none of it was happening in person, which he attributes to the pandemic.
"I can't explain it, it could be the conditions we're going through and how much it means to them. When we had to say no to certain people, it was horrendous,” he explained.
The live shows will resume on August 11 with 44 acts performing over a span of four weeks, up from the usual 36 acts over three weeks.
With so many changes, Cowell assures that one thing will remain the same: "We fulfill our promise to the contestants: There will be a finale, there will be a winner and there will be someone who walks away with a $1 million," he said. "We won't compromise your performances in any way to put on the best show."