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Heidi Klum and Nick Cannon continue to be surprised by 'America's Got Talent'

Love it or hate it, “America's Got Talent” has some of the wackiest performers on TV. The show’s ninth season (which NBC premiered on May 27, 2014) promises to have more contestants doing things from the silly to the sublime. Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel return as judges and Nick Cannon returns as host.

Heidi Klum and Nick Cannon at NBCUniversal's Summer Press Day in Pasadena, Calif., on April 8, 2014
Heidi Klum and Nick Cannon
Getty Images

With the talent search open to acts of all ages, “America's Got Talent” has brought the variety format back to the forefront of American culture by showcasing unique performers from across the country. The series features a colorful array of singers, dancers, comedians, contortionists, impressionists, jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists and hopeful stars, all vying for their chance to win America's hearts and votes and the $1 million prize. Here is what Klum and Cannon said during a recent telephone conference call with journalists.

Heidi, this is your second season of “America’s Got Talent,” and you have been witnessing so many different acts thus far. Is there any particular act that you would like to see that you haven’t seen yet?

Klum: It’s always hard to talk about an act that you haven’t seen yet because even on this season I was surprised with many acts that I had never even dreamed of before. For example, we had one boy — I think he was 9 years old — who was a professional with a Rubik’s Cube, for example. You know, you can’t dream of that.

I would love to see a 9-year old that is a professional with a Rubik’s Cube. Like he did it with his hands in 20 seconds, and then Nick kind of messed up the Rubik’s Cube again. Then the boy took his shoes off and did it 20 seconds with his toes.

So you cannot say I would love to have someone like that because they keep on surprising us the same way how there was this one boy who was a yo-yo pro. It might sound very simple, but I have never seen anyone deal with a yo-yo the way this guy did. So they keep surprising us and then I’m, like, “Wow, how amazing is that to have a talent like that?”

So we sit there and every few minutes, someone else comes onto the stage and they are the ones that surprise us where you think, “Wow, I can’t believe people are that good at something like that.” Like for example, the Rubik’s Cube guy who does it in 20 seconds with his toes. You can’t imagine that someone would be able to do that.

Nick, you’ve been on “America’s Got Talent” for six seasons now. Have you seen this season that has surprised you?

Cannon: Just as Heidi said, it’s always something, even when I do think that I’ve seen it all, there’s something else like the kid with a Rubik’s Cube on his toes. But more than anything, because I’m so used to people doing the over-the-top, ridiculous stuff and sometimes I may get involved in those, but there was a guy who walked up on stage in a baby costume and I was, like, “All right, this is going to be another one of those.” And it turned out that this gentleman was probably one of the most talented people we’ve had this season.

And just from watching the show over the years, it showed so much to where it was like, that was clever. It shows that not only are people paying attention to the show, but it shows what lengths people will go to display their talent and to stand out. And that’s what’s really our show is all about, to have those standout moments, those surprise moments, and those movements where stars are born from when we first seen Jackie Evancho, a 10-year-old opera singer, blow everybody away. She even just from the “Got Talent” tour, it’s that kind of very similar, like, Susan Boyle moment from a few years ago where people didn’t expect it, and then it goes on to be a global phenomenon.

Klum: I just thought of another person, too, where I was blown away. I think he was 92 years old, this gentlemen who pulled a car with his teeth with his brother, his girlfriend, and, I think, his sister in the car. So he pulled three grown-ups in this truck by his teeth, which was absolutely incredible. Literally, Howard and myself and Mel and Howie, we got up and tried to pull this car with these people in it with our hands, so we were all tugging on this rope, trying to get this car to even move, and we could not move this car.

But this gentlemen, this 90-somewhat-old gentleman, he put this mouthpiece in his mouth and it was attached to the rope that we all tried to pull. And he just got on his knees and he pulled this car with these people in it, which was unbelievable. I just thought of that too, which was something I had never seen before. And I couldn’t believe how strong this man was because we all couldn’t pull the car.

Heidi, since you’re going into your second season, what have you learned about yourself in terms of being a judge? Was it difficult for you in the beginning to be critical, or whatever, while you were doing it? And also, do you ever think about when you were starting out and going to auditions as a model or an actress, kind of the nervousness and anxiety that you would go through and think about that when you’re dealing with these people that are auditioning for you?

Klum: Yes. I sit there and I try to be always open-minded and give everyone a fair chance, you know. People don’t always do that in the business. You know, when I started and I would go to casting, I have memories of where people sometimes go through your book that you’ve been working on for a whole year — your picture book — and people just rush through it and sometimes they don’t even look up to you to see you and they hand the book back to you and go, “OK, next.”

And sometimes people don’t really give you a fair chance and you’re always disappointed when people treat you in a certain way. So I always try to remember that when people come on to the stage, to give everyone a fair shot. I know that these people are nervous; they’ve been waiting in line for hours. So I don’t take that lightly. I don’t just buzz in the first two seconds. I always want to see why are they here. They’ve been waiting for a long time, let’s give them a fair shot.

But I pretty much was like that from the first season. The first season, I was definitely a little bit more nervous because it’s different when you’re there than when you’re watching at home from your couch, which I had been doing many years before I was sitting there myself. So it’s different when you sit there and it’s definitely hard too because we are doing this live in front of 5,000 people and it’s hard when you criticize someone or you say certain things that you didn’t like about this act and then you have 5,000 fans in the background booing at you. It’s something that I’d never experienced before, you know?

Yes, I’ve been in the entertainment business for 20 years, but whenever someone doesn’t like my picture or they don’t like a commercial that I’ve done, or they don’t like if I do “Project Runway” or another show, I don’t get that feedback. But when you sit there and you say something and people are booing at you because they don’t like what you just said, that was definitely something new for me to have that kind of feedback, which now the second season around, I’m a little bit more used to.

But I have to criticize people and I have to tell them what I don’t like, the same way how I tell people how amazing they were and I give them a standing ovation when I tell them how incredible their act is. Like that’s what I’m hired to do. I’m a judge, so I have to tell them the good news and the bad news and have to tell them why. So that was definitely a new experience for me to have people boo at me when I was criticizing someone.

Nick, do you keep that in mind, when you were starting out and how these people might be feeling as they’re trying to impress you?

Cannon: Yes, I always empathize and sympathize with the acts, just as a performer. When you think about the amount of courage that it takes just to even step on a stage like that, regardless of what talent is what you believe you can do as a performer, it takes so much guts to get out there. So that’s kind of why I’m usually the cheerleader, the motivator, just kind of rooting, just saying, “Hey, the fact that you even attempted it and have made it this far, I’m impressed. I salute you. I’m connecting with you as an artist. So however you plan to express yourself out there in those 90 seconds, I’m here to support you.”

How do you handle it when you’re away from the family for so long?

Klum: When we start the live shows, it’s easier for me because I’m moving my entire family to New York instead of me flying back and forth every week. You know, I just set up our base there, so my family is there and they don’t have to move. So it works out perfectly for my schedule in terms of my kids going to school. And they love being in New York because we only really shoot only two days a week — we shoot the live shows Tuesdays and Wednesdays — I have all the other days off where I can run around with my family and enjoy New York City.

And it’s so great. They love being in New York City. We go see all the Broadway shows. We’re kind of like tourists. We take the double-decker bus and drive around and look at everything. And every year, as my kids get older, they kind of suck New York in in a different way and they totally enjoy it.

So it’s actually really great for us as a family because I work two days and the rest of the week I get to spend with my kids. Now when we do the auditions, it is not that bad. It’s always like four or five days when we did the auditions and then I turn right back around and I go home. So it works out pretty well.

Cannon: I would say the same thing … I mean, the days are long, but it actually kind of works very well with the family because the average person has to work a 9 to 5 every single day. They don’t get those breaks and those times to actually spend with their families. So I always tell people, as crazy as it seems, I probably get to spend my more time with my family — my wife and kids — more than the average [person] because that’s just the way the days are scheduled.

Klum: Yes. It would be hard for us probably if we would do a movie and you’re on a movie set for three months, and you’re shipped off to Australia and you shoot a film for three months. I think that would be probably really tough, but with this kind of schedule, it works out pretty wel for all of us.

How is the diversity on this season of “America’s Got Talent”?

Cannon: It’s definitely the same. It’s one of those things where this is the show, come one, come all. Race, color, creed, age — we’ll let anybody on that stage to do whatever they feel to do, as long as you have … I was about to say “as long as you have talent,” but that doesn’t matter either. It’s just like you don’t even have to have talent to be on that show. It’s really just being able to come out there and express yourself. If you’re somebody that wants to express yourself, we’ll put a number on you and push you right out there on that stage.

Klum: A new category that I was introduced to this year which I didn’t know even existed was same-gender professional dance?

Cannon: Ballroom dancing, yes.

Klum: Ballroom dance. And we have two male dancers because normally in ballroom dancing you have a male and a female. And I have never seen that before and I didn’t know that that existed, and so I was loving that. I think that it’s great for America to see that, too, that there are actually professionals — same-gender performers — that do this amazing dance. And we fell in love with these two guys.

It was incredible how well they danced together and how talented they are. So that was something new for me that I hadn’t seen before and I’m sure that a lot of people in this country, too, will be like, “Wow, that’s cool. That’s new.” So I think also that we kind of show people things that they hadn’t seen before, same way how I was new to that. I loved it, I embrace that.

What are your favorites and what are your least favorites?

Cannon: Just as a host, again, I come from a place where I try to embrace everything, but I’m not really a fan of the sideshow act because I’ve got a weak stomach. Any time people are inflicting pain on themselves or that crazy stuff, or like swallowing swords, putting staplers in their face, you’ve seen my reaction if you watch this show. I can’t look at it. I just close my eyes and look the other way.

And then the ones that are my favorite, obviously, are always the young people. I just have a soft spot in my heart for the kids that come on the show and I think this season, Season 9, we probably have more young people that have come out that are just extraordinarily talented. And it’s really probably one of the standout things from the season where you see all these young people doing all these things. And then I was conflicted at one time because we actually had a young person swallowing swords, so I loved her and hated her at the same time.

Klum: What I don’t love is when people just want to come and they don’t really have an act, but they just want to be on TV. Like we had this one girl for example — beautiful girl — and she was really fit and she wanted to show us how you pose to do a selfie, for example. Like that didn’t take me long to hit my buzzer.

Cannon: Because Heidi already knows how to take perfect selfies. She didn’t need that.

Klum: You know, that’s not a talent and that’s not a million-dollar act. There are people that are really serious that have been training for years and when I think about especially the kids when we have contortionists or dance groups or singers that are clearly beyond talented, and then there comes a girl out— a grown-up girl — and she’s serious about teaching us how to do a selfie? I’m, like, really? Those kind of things I get annoyed by. I think it’s maybe fun if someone comes to a party and does that, but this is not for “America’s Got Talent.” Those kind of things annoy me, when someone does things like that.

Cannon: I love the selfie girl.

Klum: You did?

Cannon: Yes. She came out there and stripped down to a bikini in front of thousands of people. But that’s my job. I’m supposed to be supportive.

What do think makes “America’s Got Talent” work so well?

Klum: I think because it’s a variety. I do watch the show with my children and I have for many years watched the show with my children. And there is not a lot on television that can keep their attention for a very long time. If it’s just about music or it’s just about dance, they’re like, “OK, can we watch something else now?” Like, they get bored.

And what makes this show keeps all of our attention is that every few minutes someone else comes out with something so unexpected. You always have a surprise and they just want to sit there and just know who comes out next. And that’s what keeps everyone wanting to watch “America’s Got Talent” because there are all these new amazing people with amazing ideas that pop up every year over and over again where we’re like, “Whoa, how can someone even think of that?” And the audience just loves that, and my kids love that.

And that’s why every year after year they want to watch “America’s Got Talent.” It’s the variety of it. You have aerialists, you have strength acts, you have magicians, you have comedians, you have kid dancers, you have male and female singers. You have all these novelty acts like the kid with the Rubik’s Cube or the yo-yo pro. There is just so much that keeps all of our attention because we want more, like, “Who’s coming out next?” And that’s why it’s such a huge success.

Cannon: Yes, I agree with Heidi. It’s the same idea or it’s the true essence of what entertainment is all about. If you think about where it goes back in the day, they like positive. It’s people getting opportunity to see people from all walks of life reach and strive for their dreams, and I think that’s why America connects with this so much.

Would either of you let your children audition for “America’s Got Talent” if they wanted?

Cannon: Absolutely not. Nope. I wouldn’t.

Klum: Yes, I would have to say no as well.

Cannon: I have two reasons and I, kind of, say this a lot. One is because my kids are kind of born into the entertainment industry, so I want them to have a sense of accomplishment, something that has nothing to do with entertainment is probably what I would encourage them to do.

Klum: I think it’s hard for children to get rejected and I don’t know if I want to put my kids through that. The good thing with my children is that they don’t have the ambition to do that right now. My kids are kids. They want to be kids.

They go to school and they have their hobbies, but they are not kids that are training to do anything like that right now. So I’m not pushing them. I’m happy about that. They have their playdates and they have their soccer and gymnastics classes and things like that that they love and that they’re passionate about.

But it’s a different kind of breed of kids, I think, that are just made for the stage. Because when you have singers, they’re just born with that gift. They just have it or they’ve been dancing or doing gymnastics, or sometimes we have these amazing kid dance groups, and then you have these seven or eight year olds flying through the air doing all this amazing stuff.

And they have been doing this since they were probably 4 years old, and so you have to start this kind of stuff early and really want it. And I think these kinds of kids that we see on the stage, they have that passion from an early age. And my kids are just not interested in that. They’re interested in other things.

And we have so many amazing great kids that a lot of them we have to send away because there were just so many. It was hard to say no to so many kids when we had Judgment Week just now in New York. And it’s horrible to break these kids’ hearts. And I try to be really gentle with them and tell them that they should continue. Just because it didn’t work out on “America’s Got Talent” doesn’t mean that they’re not talented.

They’re very, very talented, it’s just that Season 9 was so incredible that there were so many good ones that we had to pick and choose and unfortunately some of them had to go home. But it was really hard to break the news to them. I just don’t want to put my kids through something like that, but I guess these parents do. When you put your kid up for that, they might get a no, and then the parents are going to have to deal with their kids being crushed when they leave us. It’s hard.

Cannon: And I think the judges do a good job to make sure that it is truly that young person’s passion and they’re not being forced to do something on stage — just a kid who’s really talented and you could tell this is what they’re going to do and this is what they love. Because everybody on the judging panel and myself, we’re all parents so when we see young people, we tune right in to make sure, “OK, this is a kid who is having fun, loving what they’re doing.”

And then you’ve got to have your buzz on in a sense because you’ve got to understand this is a delicate child so even when you tell them no, and especially that’s my job to let kids know that this isn’t the end of the world and that they shouldn’t stop to miss the opportunity, regardless of what happens, is only going to make them stronger.

Did you ever feel like “Oh man, we’re running out of talent?

Klum: No.

Cannon: You’d never run out of talent.

Klum: No, because there was so much talent this year where I thought we turned over every stone already last year, because last year we went to many different cities. We traveled much more last year and we went all over America to look for talent. This year, we only went to Los Angeles and New York and, boy, people came out of the woodwork. There were so many amazing people.

It was really hard for us because we had put over 180 acts through and it was difficult because now last week when we were in New York when we did Judgment Week, we had to narrow it down to 47 acts. And with these 47 acts, we’re going to start the live shows. We had so many good people that it was difficult to say no to so many good acts.

For more info: "America's Got Talent" website

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