Heidi Klum has conquered the modeling industry, and now she’s one of the queens of reality TV. She won an Emmy for hosting Lifetime’s “Project Runway” (a show which she also executive produces), she hosts “Germany’s Next Top Model,” and in 2013, she became a judge on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” In 2014, the ninth season of “America’s Got Talent” premieres on a date to be announced.
The show’s 2013 lineup of judges — Klum, Howard Stern, Howie Mandel and Mel B — will be judges on the show in 2014. Nick Cannon will continue to host “America’s Got Talent.” In the meantime, auditions for “America’s Got Talent” in 2014 end in Los Angeles on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9. Klum and executive producer Jason Raff took time out of their busy schedules to do a telephone conference call with journalists. Here is what they said in the interview.
What are you loving about being part of “America’s Got Talent”?
Klum: Well, I love television. I’ve been in the entertainment industry for 20 years. And usually it’s been very specific either about fashion or about models. And what I love about “America’s Got Talent” — it is variety. You know, variety has always been loved by many people and by me too.
I don’t watch a lot of television but I’ve always loved watching “America’s Got Talent” just because it wasn’t specific to one talent like a singing show or a show about fashion. Or in Germany, I host “Germany’s Next Top Model,” which is just about models, and I love all of that.
But “America’s Got Talent,” it’s variety. It’s singers, it’s jugglers, comedians it’s a little bit of everything and that’s what makes it so much fun to watch and judge. Because we sit there, the producers don’t really tell us who’s coming on the stage next. So it’s always a surprise for us.
And I really sit there open-minded and just kind of sucking it all in — whatever comes onto that stage. And I just love it. I love the surprise, never knowing what to expect. And I think always we have to be open-minded too. That’s why I don’t love to buzz super-fast because I always feel like I have to give these people a chance to do their thing. So I’m usually not as trigger happy as some of the other judges.
Jason, is it difficult to find a good variety of people to represent on the show each season? Or do you find a great variety in the auditions?
Raff: You know, well we are currently doing the auditions. And you never know what’s going to happen. But I think it gets harder and harder every year. And in some ways it gets easier which does not really answer your question.
But the point being that I think every year we do it, like the things that impressed Heidi [in] year one. Like she saw [“America’s Got Talent” 2013 winner] Kenichi, for instance, an amazing solo dancer. Now every solo dancer that Heidi sees from this point on is going to have that barometer of Kenichi. So they almost have to be better than Kenichi or offer something new from Kenichi. So that kind of raises the bar.
Klum: I think for people out there who saw it, “Hey, I should go on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I’ve got a talent.” I think by watching the show and hearing already our criticism, I think that inspires them to expand maybe on their on their performance because they know that we get bored quickly. And they’ve seen acts that we’ve said no to.
And so I think that they already are starting to modify and work much harder on their act for when they come. So I think some people, they’re like, “You know what? I want to get better at my thing and this is the year I’m going to try.”
Raff: Right. We have acts that have been thinking about doing the show but they didn’t want to do it for some reason. They didn’t want to be judged. They thought it wouldn’t work for them. And then they see the success of some of the acts that we’ve had. Comedians, for instance. You did not want to be judged by our judges. But now with Howard and Howie and of course
Klum: And me. When people know love I comedians so much. There will be so many comedians this year.
Raff: But our judges are so diverse in their opinions and their feelings and in their experience that now, they’ll come to me and say, “I think Heidi will really like me. I don’t know about Howard but …” All they need is two or three judges, and they can do pretty well in the competition.
Heidi, is there a criteria that you use to judge before you hit the button if that’s what you need to do? Or if not a criteria, what is it in your mind that you’re looking for?
Klum: I’m not looking for anything specific. I want to have someone walk on that stage and surprise me. Show me something that I haven’t seen before. There is kind of like a little bit of a checklist in my head.
Is it unique? Would I want to see more of that? Was it different? Would I buy a ticket to go to Vegas and watch that? You know would I pay for an airline ticket, a hotel room, and stay there to go and watch a whole show of that?
Those are the kind of things that go through my head. Am I standing up and clapping afterwards? Did it knock me off my feet that I’m like, “Yeah, this was awesome”? Or do I have too many questions in my head? Yes, it was all right but I could do without it. You know, it has to really inspire you and say, “Wow, that was really awesome.” And then boom, they go to the next round.
And it’s much harder actually later on when you have, I don’t know, 40 or 30 amazing talented people. And then you have to whittle it down. That is even harder. To go through 40 people a day and kind of picking the best people is actually pretty easy. You know because when people come onto the stage and yes, maybe they can sing a tune and it’s all right, but if you feel like they don’t have the star quality, you move on.
Or there is a magician, and you’re like, “It was all right but I’ve seen this trick many times before. He didn’t really get me.” Moving on. So this is kind of easy. You see when there’s a star on the show. You see when someone has it, and then you can give them a few pointers for the next time around. And then they are also being produced so their bit gets even bigger and better, you see how they’re evolving.
So the first rounds are easy. But then when you have those 30, 40 gems where it’s like, “Wow, they’re all so good.” Now it’s going to be hard to pick and choose, you know? And then I’m actually happy that America takes over so I don’t have to do that anymore because it’s hard. You fall in love with these people.
I have so many singers that they gave me chills where I was like, “Wow, some professional singers don’t give me chills. and you’re giving me chills.” And also partially it’s because I’ve fallen in love with their story and where they came from and how they struggled and here they are.
And they’re gutted and they’re like there was this one guy his family sent him away and he was gay and it was like a whole problem for him. And I just thought to myself, “I hope you actually have a talent.” And then he opened his mouth and it was like, “Hallelujah, you have a talent! We’re so happy for you. You’re going forward and I wish you all the best.”
And then America loved him, and it was even better, so you root for these people. And it’s partially also because you hear their stories,. This is not fake. Those are real people. And I feel for these people.
What is that star quality?
Klum: It’s just a gut feeling too, you know? And I feel like I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, and I’m interested in Broadway and I’m interested in musicians. And I go and watch so many concerts because I just it’s part of what I love. I love dance. I go to the opera. I go to the ballet.
I travel all over the world, and I have with my parents growing up. I’ve seen so many plays and shows, and I’ve just always been interested it. I danced 15 years myself. I’ve been on the stage many times performing for people. And so I feel like when someone comes on the stage and they do something so unique you just see it when it’s in front of your eyes.
So it’s not something that you can predict. That’s why when people say, “What is the thing that you’re looking for particularly?,” there isn’t a specific thing. You just see that person or that band or that group when they’re doing it in front of you. You’re like, “That’s it. They’re different, they’re unique they have some real talent.”
Heidi, what’s the toughest thing about being a judge on “America’s Got Talent”?
Klum: Telling people no is always hard. Because like I said before, they are not actors. They are real people. And they come there and they stood in line for a day to show their bit on 60 seconds or 90 seconds in front of you. And they might be talented in their town with their family. They might be the most talented person in that family because they can, I don’t know, do the tap dance really good.
But for the big stage for America to watch this or for people to pay an entrance ticket to go and see that person, maybe not for the big stage. And it’s hard to crush someone’s dream because it is hard. I’ve had people on the stage where they were crying. Or I’ve had people on the stage where they said , “Please take that X back! Take it back!”
And the person wouldn’t get off the stage. Like we would have people help them get off the stage. When you see how they’re complete crushed, shuttered. How do you say that, shuttered? You know what I mean.
Raff: Shattered, yes.
Klum: Yes, they’re completely crushed. You see it in their eyes, and they’re like how can you not see that I’m talented. And some people are really delusional too. And their families, they tell them that they’re really good. And they might be good for their family but not for the big stage.
And then you have to tell them that. It’s hard. I don’t want to hurt someone’s feeling and make them go home and be crushed. That’s not want I really want to do. But at the same time you can’t say, “You’re fantastic,” moving on to the next round when there’s others that deserve the slot more.
If either of you were not part of “America’s Got Talent” in the way that you are and you were going to audition for the show, what would be your talent?
Klum: I would cook sauerkraut soup while yodeling. I would not make it to the next round.
Raff: I would enjoy seeing that through Heidi. You’d have gotten to the first audition with that … When I was much, much younger I used to have an act where I rode a unicycle over an egg.
Klum: No, you didn’t.
Raff: Over a ramp, over an egg, yes. And I claimed it was a world record. It was kind of a comic act. So I didn’t get anywhere with that. But when the show came along I just remember thinking, “Yes, oh my God. I love variety acts and I cannot believe even though I was not famous for my unicycle act that I could actually get paid to produce one.”
Klum: I can walk on raw eggs. I have taped them to the back of my heels so you walk just on the front of your foot. I do that on “Germany’s Next Top Model.” I have my girls do that so they learn to walk on the front of their foot. So we tape raw eggs on the back of their foot and they have to walk with that.
Raff: Why do I have to walk on the front of my feet, Heidi?
Klum: Well so that you lift up your butt and that’s how you walk.
Raff: Got it.
Klum: It’s basically like a high heel. But instead of a heel it’s a raw egg. I have my girls do that for training.
Raff: OK. We’ll work on that.
Jason, what are the producers looking for and what do acts have to do to get noticed?
Raff: The great thing about the show is I don’t know what we’re looking for but I know we’re looking for things that will give Heidi Klum goose bumps, you know? We’re traveling the country now and we’re just looking for unusual, creative [talent] — all the things that were in Heidi’s criteria. Just count the people who, when they’re in my room, that I get goose bumps and that I know that in a couple weeks I get to put them in front of Heidi and the other judges.
And by this summer, they could be performing at Radio City Music Hall which to me is almost like the prize itself. I just think of all the acts that are established acts who could go their whole career, tour the country, and never get to play at Radio City Music Hall where the acts that come on our show who do well. We get to put them on a stage like that.
So I am looking for those moments, those surprising moments, because if you look back at the winners of our show they have one thing in common. It was that surprise. They do their thing which is better or unusual or whatever. And you look at Heidi and her face looks surprised. And that’s who wins the show every time.
Are there any things the acts should not do?
Raff: Well, the worst auditions that I see my job is to travel around the country and find these people for Heidi to see. And I just see people today. They come into my room and I want to see their personality — what Heidi said — the star quality.
A lot of people will come to my audition room and they’re looking down or they’re closing their eyes during the whole performance. And when I watch them I want to picture putting them on stage and how they would be for Heidi and the other judges?
How are they going to act? What is their performance? Are they likeable? How are they going to connect with that audience at home? So that’s what I’m looking for as we travel around.
Klum: I do love also though that you pick people sometimes where you know that we’re not going to necessarily like them. But you know when you do auditions all day long and you see like 40, 50 acts? It is, as crazy as it sounds, for us and I think also for the people at home to see what America or what some of the people at home come up with.
Those are also the most memorable things from last year for me: the really, really good people and the really, really bad people. For example, there was this woman. She was on roller blades. She was making orange juice on her bra. Yes, she sewed on these kind of juicer pieces under her bra and she was making orange juice and she was singing and roller blading. I’ll never forget this.
Or there was a woman, she came on the stage on with her cat, and she said, “I’ve been training this cat for four years and it is so hard to train a cat.” And we’re like, “OK, let’s see your act.” She puts this cat on the back of like a little car that she has the motorized car.
And so the car is driving around and the cat is just sitting in the back of the car. And we’re like, “What is this act? You’ve been training her to sit in this car for four years?” And she’s like, “Yes, and it’s so difficult.” And it was so bizarre that I will never forget this. You know there was just all these weird things that happened and I love that these people also come because it does lighten it up and it kind of shows what kind of crazy things people think is talented.
What role do you think that Radio City Music Hall in New York City played in “America’s Got Talent” getting a shot of new life last year? Will there be any changes to the format this year?
Raff: Yes. I don’t think we have closed the deal with Radio City, but I’m talking in the past about that. But we certainly hope that we’re going to be there in the future. But I think Radio City, for me, it’s just an iconic stage. I remember going there as a kid and seeing shows.
And the fact that we could put these performers on that stage, it was kind of good and there were just a lot of things we learned. You know it’s a big stage and I think some of the acts just from being on stage at Radio City and on TV in addition they kind of choked a little bit. It was overwhelming.
And so I think as we look forward it’s looking for a way to kind of get them as comfortable as I can. But a lot of our acts, as you know, are amateurs and there’s not a lot you can do about it. But it was fun. What did you think Heidi?
Klum: I think Radio City is a landmark of New York City, as is the Empire State Building. Like people go on the tour bus in New York City and there’s just certain places they want to see. And Radio City is just known. Like when you come from Germany, and I have been 20 years ago, you kind of go to all the sightseeing spots. And Radio City is just known around the world. It’s an iconic place. It has a name it can’t go any bigger than Radio City for an up and coming star.
For them to be on that floor where so many amazing performers have been on, it just gives them a completely different feeling than being in some arena somewhere else where you guys did it before. And not to be put it down, but I mean Radio City just is an iconic place and it just gives them this completely different feeling to be part of something that is so big. I think it puts everything on a whole other level.
And as far as changes to the format, do you see any coming this year, or do you think it will look pretty much the same?
Raff: Our show will always remain the same as it is: open to any age, any talent. It’s a competition. There are obviously sweeps that we look at as far as the format. But basically you audition, the judges have to take it down to who goes to the live shows and then we have the live shows.
So the basic format will remain tried and true. But you’ll see little tweaks and improvements and stuff as we go. And also it’s always fun when you have the first year with four judges. That was a big thing last year. And now knowing they’re all coming back, including Nick [Cannon, host of “America’s Got Talent”], year two with judges is always stronger than year one where it takes them a little time to kind of find their place and see how their chemistry is.
Do you ever see an opportunity to bring back some of the previous winners?
Raff: Yes. We always look. In the results shows, when we get to the live [episodes], we’ve always tried to bring back acts from the past. We find actually that our audience tends to respond more to people who have been our show. Like last year we had Olate Dogs on and Terry [Fator]. And they tend to respond better to that than sometimes a guest star. So we continue to look at that and look at some of the acts from the past who’ve done well.
Klum: I liked having the acts on from the past. You know it was different to also see them live on the stage like right after you see the people that we push through. And then you see some of the previous winners being on the stage.
It was great. And you understand why they won. And it’s different to see that on TV. And when you sit right there, and I was like, “Yes, they are so good. It’s great to have them come back.
If you were to ever add a judge or if maybe someone left and you had to bring in someone new, who would it be? Who would you love to see on the panel?
Raff: Heidi, who would you like to see on the panel next year?
Klum: I know. You’re putting a little bit like a ...
Raff: I would like to see President Obama I believe. That would be good.
Klum: I’m happy the way it is.
Raff: Yes, I mean I don’t the one thing about this business of producing these panel shows is that the times when you’re looking for a judge you go through lists and lists of people. Listen, there are judges that are on TV right now that certainly we had talked to at one point or another in the nine-year history of the show.
But once you settle on a judging panel that you like, you try not to think about it at all until you have to. And to be honest, we didn’t we didn’t necessarily know that it was a big change at least for me last year because I was so used to three judges. I was so used to three Xs. It was just so ingrained in my head and working on the show.
And so as we discussed the four judges and what the pros and cons were I wasn’t sure how it was going to work. And that was a big kind of change for our format at least. And then in the end finding the right four people with the right chemistry and four different opinions and also people who will speak up. Howard [Stern] is a big personality.
And some people, he’s going to intimidate them, even though he might not mean to. And finding these two ladies who don’t really care about what Howard’s opinion is and will speak their minds was a huge undertaking. And I think that’s why I’m just so proud of this panel. I can’t even think of the future.
Heidi, you mentioned that you’d like to see the “America’s Got Talent” judging panel to stay the same. What do you think it is between the four of you that makes the chemistry so great?
Klum: I think that we’re all very different. You know we all come from different fields of the entertainment, you know? Me having been a model for so many years or a host of “Project Runway” or I’m the host of “Germany’s Next Top Model,” I’ve been more in fashion and modeling. But I have been myself in the industry for 20 years now and I’ve seen a lot of things.
And then you have Howard Stern, who has been the radio god. And then you have Howie Mandel, who is one of the funniest people on the planet. And then you have a singer [Mel B] who has been a huge megastar around the world.
And so we’re all just from the entertainment industry but we’re all from kind of different fields of it so we’re kind of shoveled together. And I think that’s what makes it work so well. You know, we all kind of have different age groups. I think that is also good. I don’t know. It’s just we gelled really well.
And I’m honored that I was asked the first time. And now that I’ve been asked to come back I’m so ready to go and so excited to be part of it. I love it. We all have a strong point of you. No one kind of sings someone else’s tune. We all have our own head and our own things that we like. And I think that’s what makes it interesting.
Sometimes Howard says something. He loves it and I hate it. And then we have a little fight about it. And Howie doesn’t understand why that’s possible. And how can you think that this person is not good? And it’s honest and that makes it interesting.
Raff: I’ll start with “Idol” and the judging panel there. On the live show saw you had to be, “OK, which one is going to be the mean one? Which judge is going to be the nice one? And let’s pick a fight among these two because maybe it makes good TV.”
And I think that on our show, we manage to have four personalities that are strong. And the great thing for me as a producer as I sit there watching the acts on TV is that it is a little unpredictable in that sometimes Heidi and Howard will agree. Sometimes they will fiercely disagree. Sometimes Mel and Heidi will agree, and sometimes they’ll disagree.
And then there’s this moment where I am wondering what they’re thinking and I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do and if they’re going to put the act through and if they like it or if they didn’t like it. And to me it’s exciting to be in that theater watching them do their thing and use their experience. And there’s no one mean one or one this one or one that one. They all bring such different experiences to the table. And that’s why I think we do have the best judging panel on TV.
Heidi, if you could be a contestant on a reality show, is there a particular reality show that you’d love to be on?
Klum: No, I don’t. I’d rather produce and host it. I don’t want to have to do all of that. I don’t. You know I did win a competition in Germany. That’s how I started in ’92. It was a modeling competition. So I kind of went through it a little bit.
Obviously, this is a long time ago so it wasn’t as big, but it was on TV and it went on for six months actually where they had three girls every week. And you know how America can choose America’s talent, Germany voted for me. And so that’s how I became a model. I won a modeling contest. But now I wouldn’t want to do that anymore. But I kind of did I guess, you know? That’s a long time ago.
For more info: "America's Got Talent" website