As a regular viewer of reality television, I am concerned when it appears that people in charge of the competition make decisions giving certain contestants unfair advantage over their competitors. I saw such a situation this week on America’s Got Talent.
Howard Stern, a popular radio host known for his outspoken behavior, recently joined the staff of America’s Got Talent as the third judge. In this role, he has evaluated hundreds of acts that auditioned in the early rounds, and he was instrumental in choosing the 48 quarter-finalists. Once the show enters these final stages, however, the power is expected to shift from the judges to the viewing public. The judges maintain a certain level of control – they still give critiques, and each of them still has the power to buzz a contestant who is performing poorly – but the ultimate fate of the performers now belongs to the audience, voting for their favorites to advance to later rounds.
Somebody forgot to explain this to Stern. During his final critique during the show on Monday, June 25, he predicted that speed painter David Garibaldi, the dancing Scott Brothers, singers Shanice and Maurice, and a teen musician named Edon would advance to the next round before the voting actually began. By making this pronouncement, he appeared to be giving instructions to the audience. This marks the first time in my memory that a judge on America’s Got Talent has made such a specific statement about the results before the fact.
The following night, all of Stern’s picks advanced exactly as predicted. Shanice and Maurice, the Scott Brothers, and Garibaldi were declared to be among the top three vote-getters. Stern’s fourth pick, Edon, was placed into a “judges choice” run-off with ventriloquist Todd Oliver. Stern had already predicted that Edon was moving on. And yet, there were still nearly 20 minutes left to the results show. The tension for the remainder of the evening centered around which of these two men would take the final slot. The result was anticlimactic.
I have no issue with Stern offering his opinion regarding these particular acts. I think he chose well. However, the act of making that prediction to sum up the evening is likely to have swayed the voting, especially for Edon, and it helped render a large section of the results show moot.
Howard Stern is a “shock jock.” He’s built a career out of telling people what he thinks, and then strongly encouraging them to agree with him. Here, for once, I think he may have overstepped his bounds in a way that rendered the show tedious rather than exciting. I hope that in future rounds Stern will be able to rein in his natural tendency to rile up the audience and, instead, attempt a little more objectivity in the way he critiques the performers, to make for a show that is more fair and more interesting to watch.