“America’s Got Talent: The Champions” may be a new twist on a popular reality competition, but one thing is certain: It features a very enthusiastic host.
Actor Terry Crews (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) emcees NBC’s first winter season of the talent contest, due Monday (8 EST/PST), which brings together former “AGT” winners and favorites and standout performers from “Talent” editions around the world.
“I want the (audience) interaction. I’m big, I’m boisterous, I love it,” says Crews, who celebrates a second NBC premiere Thursday when “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” opens Season 6. He plays Sgt. Terry Jeffords on Andy Samberg’s cop comedy, which moves to the network after Fox canceled the series.
Crews, who replaces host Tyra Banks on this “AGT,” joins returning judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel for the competition, taped last fall without the live shows that are a popular part of the summer edition.
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Viewers will see plenty of familiar performers, too, including recent “AGT” winners, magician Shin Lim (2018) and ventriloquists Darci Lynne Farmer (2017) and Paul Zerdin (2015). Also returning: Singer Susan Boyle, who became a star after performing on “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2009, and gets a chance to perform again for Cowell. He’s one of three “Britain’s Got Talent” judges who heard her 2009 audition with “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables,” which became an international sensation.
“It felt really surreal. That was such a long time ago,” Boyle says. “It was good to get out and perform for him. … The whole ‘Champions’ thing is amazing.”
Boyle, who has released seven albums and has an eighth due in June, knows the power of the “Talent” spotlight.
“It changed my life,” she says. “I’ve had a wonderful time. I don’t want it to end.”
Cowell was “thrilled and surprised” that Boyle agreed to compete. “It wouldn’t have been the same without Susan,” he says in an email interview. “She was the one contestant everyone wanted to see again.”
In all, 33 of the 50 acts have already competed on “AGT,” while others hail from “Talent” versions in Ukraine, South Africa, Australia, Denmark and elsewhere. Besides Boyle, Cowell mentions other international performers to watch: opera singer Paul Potts from “Britain’s Got Talent,” rock singer Christina Ramos from “Spain’s Got Talent” and sand artist Kseniya Simonova of “Ukraine’s Got Talent.”
“I was also keen to see how previous (“AGT”) winners, like Darci Lynne, would defend their crown against other people,” he says.
In a sense, “AGT” already serves as an international competition by attracting acts from around the globe. “Champions” performers include international “AGT” alums such as singer Courtney Hadwin (England), ladder balancer Uzeyer Novruzov (Azerbaijan) and mentalist Colin Cloud (Scotland).
The competition also features the show’s eclectic mix of performers: an escape artist, a sword-swallower, a juggler, “danger roller skaters” and even a “professional regurgitator.”
And Ryan Stock and AmberLynn will perform their dangerous flaming-arrow act for the first time since AmberLynn hit Stock in the throat with an arrow during a 2016 “AGT” performance.
“They have not done that act since that happened. They came back and did it on our show and it was really scary,” executive producer Sam Donnelly says. “They wanted to prove something, and they really wanted the chance to win.”
But worldwide editions of established hits aren’t guaranteed winners: 2003’s “World Idol,” a one-time, long-forgotten spinoff of “American Idol” and Britain’s “Pop Idol” was a bust.
More: ‘America’s Got Talent’: Ryan Stock is hit with a flaming arrow on live TV
Ten acts will perform in each of the first five episodes, and each week two advance to the next round. Because viewers can’t vote for performers as they do after the live shows, one act from each episode will move on courtesy of a “Golden Buzzer” – the four judges and Crews each have one to use – and the other will be chosen by a panel of superfans, representing viewers from all 50 states.
The new “AGT” series is partly designed to blunt the impact of CBS’s “The World’s Best,” a glitzy, worldwide talent contest from producers Mark Burnett and Mike Darnell that premieres in the high-profile post-Super Bowl slot on Feb. 3. In addition to international acts, “World’s Best” features 50 talent experts from all over the world.
Cowell’s take on the competition: “Not very original and not interested.”
Crews, a former NFL defensive end whose hosting resume includes “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “World’s Funniest,” says he loves hearing an audience respond to a performance, something that’s missing on a movie or filmed comedy like “Brooklyn.”
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“The energy I get from a crowd actually replaces my time in the NFL. You have to understand, all football players get energy from their crowd. It allows you to do things that you never thought you could do,” he says. “Going to ‘America’s Got Talent,’ the No. 1 talent show in the world, it fulfills something in me that couldn’t be replaced by anything else.”
He also understands that Cowell isn’t just a judge; he’s the show’s creator and executive producer.
“Simon’s cool, man,” he says. “If you make Simon happy, you know you’re doing good.”