Log Out First-season judge Simon Cowell, left, joins fellow 'America's Got Talent' panelists Howie Mandell, Mel B and Heidi Klum during a taping of the NBC talent competition.(Photo: Trae Patton, NBC) The NBC talent competition ( Wednesday, 8 ET/PT) is again summer's top-rated program, enjoying its biggest audience in five seasons (an average of 13.7 million viewers, up 10% from last year) and its best performance with young adults since 2013.
Judge Howie Mandel attributes the increased popularity to a rising level of talent, especially among singers, that has accompanied the arrival of AGT executive producer and former American Idol arbiter Simon Cowell as a judge, replacing Howard Stern.
"Simon created more of a gravitas to the judging panel; it's not just a talent contest, but stars can be made," Mandel says, referring to performers such as One Direction, Susan Boyle and Fifth Harmony who have competed on Cowell's X Factor.
(Photo: Trae Patton, NBC) "All these really young people, younger than ever before, are showing up and doing things at a level far beyond anybody three times their age," he says.
(Photo: Trae Patton, NBC) The success of Cowell's pre-season goal of attracting more singers is reflected in the finals: Half the field consists of musical acts, including Brian Justin Crum, Sal Valentinetti and Linkin' Bridge.