‘AGT’ judges impressed with Chicago talent in advance of Tuesday premiere
By Natasha Wasinski June 3, 2013 5:10PM
Melissa and Monica Kieca of River Grove brought their Scary Spice dolls to the "America's Got Talent" Chicago auditions. Mel Brown (center) invited the sisters to the judges' table for a photo. | Natasha Wasinski
‘AMERICA’S GOT TALENT’
8 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays on WMAQ-Channel 5
Updated: July 17, 2013 6:04AM
A troupe of classical Chinese dancers, a yo-yo enthusiast and a roller-skating diva may not have a whole lot in common.
Except all had equal shots to compete on the nation’s biggest stage for a $1 million prize.
“America’s Got Talent” has begun airing its eighth season after a months-long, coast-to-coast search for the most daring, dazzling and one-of-a-kind performers. After Sharon Osbourne’s exit last year, NBC shook up the hit talent show by placing both Heidi Klum and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown at the judging table alongside Howard Stern and Howie Mandel.
Auditions for the summer series wrapped up outside Chicago last month after a 12-city tour. Fans flocked to Rosemont Theatre for a glimpse of — and the possibility of a photo with — the celebrity panel.
It took some digging in their closets, but Melissa and Monica Kieca found and brought along their animal-print-clad Scary Spice dolls, circa 1998.
The River Grove sisters said meeting their favorite singer from the British pop group was simply “awesome.”
“My friends and I still karaoke to them,” added Monica Kieca, 26.
In between tapings, the judges sat down with the Chicago Sun-Times to discuss Stern’s mood swings and Brown’s club-hopping, as well as what Windy City wannabe stars have to offer.
Q. When you visit a city like Chicago with a rich comedy scene and hip-hop culture, do you expect to see those sorts of acts?
Mandel: I expected comedy. That’s my background. I did my very first cable special here in town at the Bismarck Theatre [now Cadillac Palace Theatre] in the early ’80s. I love the audiences here. I think that I have seen, personally, the most exciting comedy act that I have seen in four years, and it came out of Chicago.
Stern: But you still get your kooks in Chicago. Someone just dumped garbage all over the stage.
Brown: Oh, my gosh. And then they were shocked we didn’t like it.
Stern: How annoying, you know?
Mandel: But what would a great city be without kooks?
Stern: You’ve got to have your kooks. But Chicago really did surprise me. It’s just as been unbelievably good to the point that I’m actually in a good mood, and that never happens.
Q. Is it difficult to critique someone who is not in your line of work?
Stern: Not at all. Everybody has an opinion. You sit at home and watch the show and everyone’s a judge. I think what sets us above, in terms of why we’re sitting there, is that we have some credibility because of the nature of what we’ve accomplished.
Mandel: Is it hard to critique — because I’m a comedian — a dancer? No, because, even though I may not be as technically versed, I am aware of what audiences are buying tickets to, how things are marketed, who you’d like, what’d America would like.
Q. How does judging “AGT” compare to judging on other shows, like “Project Runway” or “The X Factor”?
Brown: Here you get to see everything. It’s a variety show.
Klum: Nothing is like “America’s Got Talent.” America’s Got Talent is about entertaining with anything. Like what we just saw. What do you call it with the dominoes and the balls falling over?
Mandel: A Rube Goldberg device.
Klum: Where else can you showcase a talent like that? A guy like that, he’s sitting at home, figuring out how to do this [trick], and now he’s showed it to us and it’s fantastic.
Brown: Three days it took him to set it up, and it fell in 10 seconds.
Stern: And Howie knocked into the table.
Q. In addition to a large cash prize, one winner will walk away with the chance to headline a show in Las Vegas. What makes performing in Vegas different than in other cities?
Brown: Everybody wants to go to Vegas. It’s the strip of lights where dreams can born, dreams can be crushed. If you’re not a good entertainer, you’re out. It’s where everybody goes toward to be entertained, and carry those ridiculous cocktails around. I lived there for nine months because I had my show in Vegas. You get a fun, fun crowd.
Klum: It’s Disneyland for adults. Everyone goes to Las Vegas to see shows.
Brown: Or a strip joint.
Mandel: You go to the strip clubs?
Brown: In Vegas I have. I went with my husband.
Q. How has the dynamic of the show changed now that there are four judges instead of three?
Mandel: I think there’s just more people to appreciate me. I always felt appreciated and now I feel appreciated 25 percent more.
Stern: It’s harder [for contestants]. You need three “yes” votes to get through. Last year you got two yeses. It’s a way more difficult show. The addition of Heidi and Mel has been really great. We jell together.
Mandel: Howard and I called each other. … We were concerned. I think [having a fourth judge] enhanced the show, to be honest with you.
Brown: It’s a lot of fun for us.
Q. Have you found that million-dollar act?
Brown: I think so. We found too many!
Stern: Oh, yeah. My problem is we’ve found a couple million-dollar acts. Especially here in Chicago. Fabulous acts. Really, really great.
Mandel: America has their work cut out for them.
Natasha Wasinski is a locally based free-lance writer.