We mine the mind of Simon Cowell as "America's Got Talent" goes live

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21 July 2016

NBC, Tuesday, 8:00 PM ET

By Lori Acken

First things ?rst: Yes, Simon Cowell genuinely is the kindhearted, good-natured guy you see on the current season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, which launches its live shows Tuesday.

Credit the joy of being dad to adorable toddler Eric. And being freed from the laser focus on bolstering his record label via the global Idol and X-Factor franchises Cowell also helped create. But mostly, says the charming Brit, watching an endless parade of good people do entertaining things makes him feel like a kid at the carnival himself. One with the platform and power to change the most talented performers’ lives — the hallmark of his Syco Entertainment.

“That’s why I’ve always loved doing this show,” says Cowell. “Music is quite strict. Variety is much looser. I like some of the crazier acts, so when we head into the live shows, the majority are obviously good, and in the mix, you’ve got one or two oddballs, as well.”

The tasty combo makes AGT the ultimate feel-good fun, with ratings to prove it. Where else can you get a load of, say, 54-year-old one-man, er, man-band, Christopher? Or oven-mitted puppeteer Tape Face? Cowell’s also proud that many performers AGT spotlights are too young (or old) to even appear on other talent shows, including Golden Buzzer recipients Grace VanderWaal, a preteen singer/songwriter Cowell likened to Taylor Swift, and 13-year-old opera prodigy Laura Bretan.

“The fascinating thing — and I don’t know why it’s become this way — is that they’re more con? dent than the adults now,” says Cowell of his affection for AGT’s youngest contestants. “I learn more from the kids than the other way around.” Case in point, his own Golden Buzzer choice, poised 16-year-old cancer survivor and vocal powerhouse Calysta Bevier. “When someone special walks in — like her, or the ? rst time I met Carrie Underwood,” he says, “you just know you’ve met a star.”

Still, Cowell cites Britain’s Got Talent phenom Susan Boyle as a great lesson that the “?fth judge” — we folks at home — often recognizes talent he might otherwise ignore. “There’s a lot of people like myself who work for record labels who like to think of themselves as tastemakers,” he says. “The truth is, we have no idea. The public has completely different tastes, and it’s opened up my mind to thinking there are no rules anymore. If you’re good,you’re good — and that’s exciting.”
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