Last night Heidi Klum and Mel B took their places at the judges' table of "America's Got Talent," and while the focus was theoretically on the performers, the good news is that the new kids blended in seamlessly. Of course, both have plenty of experience offering criticism. Mel B was a judge on the Australian version of "The X Factor," and we all know Klum as both a host and judge of "Project Runway."
Both seemed perfectly comfortable with their new gigs, joking around with the both Howie Mandel and Howard Stern, gushing over good acts and tactfully dismissing the rest. Granted, judging a glorified state fair talent show isn't exactly neurosurgery. I mean, this job was previously held by David Hasselhoff. But given how judges have been cycling in and out of other competition shows, it seems that part of nailing the job may be making it all look easier than it really is.
Watching "The Voice," we all learned that as much as we liked Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo Green, they barely held a candle to either Shakira or Usher (not that they're going anywhere, mind you, but we all might be a little sad to see them return to the spinning chairs rotation schedule). Though Paula Abdul seemed far more sober and collected on "The X Factor" than she ever did on "American Idol," she still got the boot from her old friend Simon Cowell. Abdul's co-judge Nicole Scherzinger learned the hard way that wussing out and letting the voting public decide who's going home on "The X Factor" wasn't the safe move it seemed to be. Being too nice certainly wasn't a problem for Mariah Carey or Nicki Minaj on "American Idol," but no one was surprised when neither one, um, decided to come back for another season.
A lot of people have grumbled that Klum has no reason to be judging much of anything beyond "Project Runway." After all, she's not an entertainer unless you consider watching someone tromp up and down a catwalk entertaining. But that quibble, especially for a show like "America's Got Talent," doesn't make a lot of sense. Given that the judges are giving a thumbs up or down on everything from snake charming to yodeling to clog dancing, no judge is going to have an in-depth understanding of everything he or she sees. No, "America's Got Talent" just needs a few people who are willing to sit quietly and be entertained (or not entertained). What Klum knows how to do is offer some honest (sometimes acid) feedback, smile gamely and offer a much-prettier reflection of the viewer at home. On "Project Runway," Klum was able to tell a designer their dress looked like a tablecloth, but somehow make it sound like helpful criticism. That fine balance -- somewhere between mushy constructive criticism and gutting a person like a fish -- is one she strikes effortlessly.
So far Mel B is also proving to be a spunky, upbeat presence as befits someone better known as Scary Spice. Unlike Klum (or, really, anyone else on the panel) she has been able to offer some cogent criticism when it comes to song and dance, then whoop and squeal for all the weirder acts that make up this show. Though the two Howards and the ladies don't seem like an obvious combination, so far there doesn't seem to be tension or an underlying lack of respect. If all continues as last night's episode suggests, it may well be pretty darn watchable. And, after suffering through "American Idol" this year, it might be nice to let the drama stay on the stage.
What did you think of Heidi Klum and Mel B?