Howard argues with Howie. Heidi rolls her eyes. And Mel B? She just sits back in her chair with her arms folded, looking...Scary. Judging from our roundtable discussion in Los Angeles with the four panelists of America's Got Talent — returnees Howard Stern and Howie Mandel and newbies Heidi Klum and former Spice Girl Mel B — nobody's going to be singing "Kumbaya" this season. "Having the two ladies in the middle and the two Hs at the ends, it's working out great," says AGT host Nick Cannon later, at a separate photo shoot. "They've got great chemistry. They get along really well. And when they don't get along, it's even better, because it's so entertaining."
TV Guide Magazine: Who is going to be the bad guy this season? It seems like there's an embarrassment of riches.
Howard: Mel is going to be the bad guy.
Mel B: Right, I'm going to be the bad guy!
Howie: On this show, there isn't a bad guy or a good guy. What you hear and how we judge is truly what we think.
Howard: I've never played it any other way than being myself, and I see the same thing with all the judges here. Everybody is being themselves. There are times when I'm mean on the show, but that's just because I'm being honest and critical.
TV Guide Magazine: Will going from three judges to four change the deliberative process? That's a fairly big change to make in a show's eighth season.
Howard: Oh, it absolutely changes things. With three people, you had time to develop your thoughts. Now you've got to be quicker. In terms of time allotment, you've got to be cognizant of the fact that you can't go on too long, because there are four of us now.
Mel B: [Sarcastically] You're aware of that?
Howie: With four judges, it raises the bar on the talent. You need three yes votes now to get through, so the level of talent this year is higher.
Howard: Howie is 100 percent right. We've eliminated people this year who would have gotten through last year.
TV Guide Magazine: Heidi and Mel B, you're the new judges on the panel, taking Sharon Osbourne's old spot —
Heidi: We're the brains. [Nods toward Howard and Howie] They're the beauty.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you become judges? Was there an audition? There were lots of names being floated around for the jobs before you two signed on.
Mel B: I was told it was just me...
Heidi: Who were the other people?
TV Guide Magazine: Carmen Electra, Shannen Doherty, Rosie O'Donnell...
Mel B: Those are all great people.
Heidi: I met with the network, but it wasn't like an audition.
Howie: The question isn't, How did we get these jobs? The question really is, How did these jobs even come to exist? The truth is, I can't believe this is actually a gig. Who ever dreamed that one day we would get paid to do what we do?
TV Guide Magazine: You're getting paid a ton of money to be "personalities."
Howie: That's my life.
Heidi: But we do have expertise. I definitely see more [live] shows than the people who are sitting at home. I've traveled the world for 20 years. No matter what town I'm in, I see the shows.
Howard: It's such a strange genre. It's so odd, this whole judging thing. In terms of my own career, my job has always been to go out and attract attention. And now the situation is reversed. I'm in the boss role now, saying to people, "OK, prove to me that you've got something intriguing."
TV Guide Magazine: Do you ever feel guilty crushing people's dreams on national television?
Heidi: It's not fun when you say "No," and the whole room goes, "Booo!" We are being judged as we are judging.
Howie: That was a big adjustment for me. That was the hardest part. The first time I sat on the panel, three years ago, I said something negative about an act, and 3,000 people in the audience booed me. I thought, "Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into?" I had to realize that I wasn't there to get people to like me; I was there to judge.
TV Guide Magazine: But isn't that part of the fun of this kind of show? People enjoy watching train wrecks.
Howard: The best part of America's Got Talent is that it appeals to the base instincts of us all. The appeal is the same as the gladiators going into the Thunderdome. When those four Xs go off and you see somebody's blood drain from their face — that's the drama of life and death.
Howie: Really? I disagree.
Mel B: Oh, I don't think so. People watch to see something magical happen on stage.
Howard: [Shakes his head] When you see a guy walk out there, there's the chance he could either be humiliated or brought to super heights. It's as close to life and death as we have — either they're going to die on the stage or live. I see how people react in the audience. My father-in-law came to the show. He's a pretty sedate guy. All of a sudden, I see him and he's like, "Give it to him! Give it to him!" It really reminded me of guys being slaughtered.
Mel B: Oh, my God.
Howie: It's about hope. Every body sitting at home can put themselves in the position of the young person who's been dreaming all their life and walks onto that AGT stage — and the next day they become a household name. They become Kelly Clarkson or [Season 5 AGT runner-up] Jackie Evancho or get a $100 million Vegas contract like that ventriloquist on the show — what was his name?
Publicist: Terry Fator.
Howie: Yeah, Terry Fator. A household name. I just live in a different household.
America's Got Talent premieres Tuesday, June 4 at 9/8c on NBC.