In the corner of the sunshine-yellow green room, Howie Mandel is trying to set up two single people.
"I am like a young, Jewish Tinder," he shouts. "Think of me as Tinder-Man."
On cue, fellow returning America's Got Talent judges Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Mel B wander in, having just finished a rough three-hour taping at the Dolby Theatre, with acts including a hologram dancer, a bearded singer in a ball gown and an awkward comedian telling diaper jokes. They're among would-be contestants in auditions that begin tonight (NBC, 8 ET/PT).
Klum hated that comedian. "I had no problem with his awkwardness, I just didn't like his jokes," says Klum. Stern and Mandel helped send the guy through, and regularly voted together today, though they say there's no gender divide at play.
"Heidi and I agree a lot, actually," says Stern, who has long anointed himself "America's Judge." "I don't think it necessarily goes by gender."
Performance artist Kenichi Ebina took home the big prize last year, and although ratings were up 6%, to 12 million viewers, producers are trying to shake up — or at least, gently stir — the summer talent show's formula moving into Season 9.
Enter the "Golden Buzzer," a last-ditch attempt a judge can make during tryouts to save an act. And this year talent can submit their videos online to the Today show. The top three submissions will perform on the Today's plaza, and fans can vote an act straight into the live shows.
"I like innovation," says Stern. "Shows can get stale, let's face it. We take that into account."
Host Nick Cannon is back, too, but Las Vegas Week is moving to New York, largely to accommodate the Sirius king, who joined AGT in 2012 on the condition the show shoot in the New York area. "I feel great about it," says Stern of the tweak to the schedule. "I hate to travel."
Mandel says Stern "doesn't care that we schlep back and forth." Stern grins.
The weirdest acts they've seen this year? One contestant "was setting a record for the most spiders put on his face," says Mandel. "They were poisonous tarantulas. Then Heidi put them on her." Another time, Klum kissed a contestant's pig.
"Heidi's thing is slowly becoming, do what all the acts do," says Stern.
"Just because I want people to see how hard it is when they do it!" she protests.
Does that make Mel B the normal one? Hardly. During one taping, the judges repeatedly tried to ax a headache-inducing act, "and we're buzzing and buzzing," says Klum.
"We've never stopped the show in the middle of an act," says Mandel. "So they stop. The whole technical team comes in. They come under our desk.
"And the guy finds this wire, this strange wire attached. He follows the wire, and it goes past me to the next seat. And where does the wire go to? To Mel. Mel is charging her phone. In order for Mel B to charge her phone she pulled out a plug. And that's the one that just told you she's the normal one."
Mel B laughs. "My phone died!"