‘Tal­ent’ tri­umphs in sum­mer au­di­ence bat­tle

Si­mon Cow­ell helps boost the con­test to best rat­ings in 5 years

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Bill Keveney

Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent will crown a Sea­son 11 cham­pion Wed­nes­day night, but there’s al­ready a clear win­ner: the show it­self.

The NBC tal­ent competitio­n (8 ET/PT) is again sum­mer’s toprated pro­gram, en­joy­ing its big­gest au­di­ence in five sea­sons (an av­er­age of 13.7 mil­lion view­ers, up 10% from last year) and its best per­for­mance with young adults since 2013. Be­sides nam­ing a win­ner, Wed­nes­day’s fi­nale will fea­ture per­for­mances by Ste­vie Nicks, The Jer­sey Boys and Il Volo.

Judge Howie Man­del at­tributes the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity to a ris­ing level of tal­ent, es­pe­cially among singers, that has ac­com­pa­nied the ar­rival of AGT ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and for­mer Amer­i­can

Idol ar­biter Si­mon Cow­ell as a judge, re­plac­ing Howard Stern. (They join Mel B and Heidi Klum.)

“Si­mon cre­ated more of a grav­i­tas to the judg­ing panel; it’s not just a tal­ent con­test, but stars can be made,” Man­del says, re­fer­ring to per­form­ers such as One Di­rec­tion, Su­san Boyle and Fifth Har- mony who have com­peted on Cow­ell’s X Fac­tor. Con­tes­tants “come on with hopes of not just do­ing well in this con­test but hav­ing a ca­reer be­yond this, and singing in front of Si­mon Cow­ell means more than it ever meant be­fore.”

Man­del mar­vels at the youngest com­peti­tors, in­clud­ing 14year-old opera singer Laura Bre­tan and this sea­son’s break­out per­former, singer-song­writer Grace Van­derWaal, who’s just 12.

“All these re­ally young peo­ple, younger than ever be­fore, are show­ing up and do­ing things at a level far be­yond any­body three times their age,” he says. Van­derWaal “is not only an adorable, lit­tle ukulele-play­ing singer, but an amaz­ing, al­ready ac­com­plished song­writer who has caught the ear of every­one in the busi­ness.”

The suc­cess of Cow­ell’s pre­sea­son goal of at­tract­ing more singers is re­flected in the fi­nals: Half the field con­sists of mu­si­cal acts, in­clud­ing Brian Justin Crum, Sal Valen­tinetti and Linkin’ Bridge. But the fi­nale also fea­tures jug­gler Vik­tor Kee, magician Jon Doren­bos, con­tor­tion­ist Sofie Dossi, mime/co­me­dian Tape Face (aka Sam Wills) and men­tal­ist duo The Clair­voy­ants.

“The va­ri­ety is im­pec­ca­ble,” says Man­del, who won’t pre­dict a win­ner but says Van­derWaal, “re­gard­less of whether she comes in first, se­cond or third, will ex­plode as hav­ing the big­gest ca­reer out of these kind of shows since Car­rie Un­der­wood or Kelly Clark­son.”

First-sea­son judge Si­mon Cow­ell, left, and fel­low pan­elists Howie Man­dell, Mel B and Heidi Klum crown a Sea­son 11 win­ner Wed­nes­day night.

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