"Who knows maybe next week he will be sitting there with us again, at the speed he's going!" Heidi Klum told PEOPLE of Simon Cowell possibly returning to judge AGT

By Karen Mizoguchi
August 12, 2020 09:06 AM
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Season 15 of America's Got Talent has been the most unpredictable one yet.

Not only has the coronavirus pandemic affected the show's production, but last-minute changes have unexpectedly plagued this season's judges' panel. Most recently, Simon Cowell broke his back and had a metal rod put in during a five-hour surgery on Saturday evening.

"We told him, 'Hey Simon, we got your back,' " veteran judge Howie Mandel jokingly told PEOPLE after Tuesday's live show, which was the first of four quarterfinal episodes and saw guest judge Kelly Clarkson filling in for Cowell, who remains in the hospital.

"We miss Simon, our hearts and minds are with him and his family and a quick recovery. Kelly Clarkson, filling in, rose to the occasion," Mandel, 64, said.

Heidi Klum, who missed some audition episodes after falling ill in early spring and was temporarily subbed by Eric Stonestreet, told PEOPLE that she received an update on Cowell's recovery the morning of filming.

"We were told he already got up out of the bed, which is just incredible. When we woke up on Sunday morning to the news, you think, 'Oh my gosh, will he ever walk again?' " she said.

A source told PEOPLE on Monday that Cowell, 60, was "walking around again" and "definitely not letting [the injury] slow down all the things he's got going on."

Klum, 47, added, "Who knows maybe next week he will be sitting there with us again, at the speed he's going! I hope he does. I was like, 'What else is happening?' Every morning you wake up to another crazy news and I hope this is it for now. Can we just turn the page and can life get better? We're all hoping for that."

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After her first live show, Vergara praised the producers for an impressive episode. "The production deserves all the credit. It didn't feel like they were fixing a problem. It felt like they were creating an amazing show," the freshman judge, 48, told PEOPLE.

"It's really because everyone loves the show so much, they tried everything and anything possible that can be done. As you know, most shows are shut down there's not a whole [lot] happening right now so they tried their hardest to put on a great show for America," said Klum, who added that it "would've been horrible" and "so sad to not continue on," especially for the contestants who worked hard to reach the live shows.

"What they did today was mindblowing. It looked great, it felt great," Klum shared. "We came into the room and it was a surprise, we didn't know that there's hundreds of people that are live watching behind us on all these little screens. It didn't feel like we were all by ourselves. ... I was worried it was going to be this cold room where we can't feel the audience, but we did."

The first 11 of 44 contestants who performed on Tuesday include Vergara's Golden Buzzer singer Roberta Battaglia, singing duo Double Dragon, ukuleleist Feng E, contortionist dancer FrenchieBabyy, singer Shaquira McGrath, daredevil father-daughter duo Bello and Annaliese Nock, pig act Pork Chop Revue, salsa dancers Simon and Maria, singer Archie Williams and stand-up comedian Michael Yo.

Mandel, who has been a part of the AGT franchise for over 10 years, said "there aren't words to describe this season," especially the unpredictability of it all. "There aren't words to describe this world. There aren't words to describe this life that we're living," he explained.

"As somebody who's been on this show for over a decade, who usually shows up and knows what to expect, we knew nothing," the comedian said of the first live show, which was filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood instead of the Dolby Theater. "We were all like Sofia, all first-timers in this world. I got to say it was a spectacular, heartwarming surprise with every level of emotion you could have."

Meanwhile, for Klum, Tuesday's live show was both an escape and a chance to root for deserving acts. "It was beautiful for two hours for me tonight to be in this moment because it is very hard to forget about all these different things that are happening right now, not just the pandemic," she said.

"There's so much stuff going on. I was there with the talent, and it felt really good to laugh out loud, see my friends and see these amazing people who deserve to be there and deserve to be seen. It felt really good to disappear and be in that moment for two hours with the acts," Klum shared.

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Cowell has been recovering following a minor accident on Saturday. The father of one fell off an electric bicycle in the courtyard of his Malibu, California, house, his rep told PEOPLE exclusively.

"Simon had surgery overnight and is doing okay this morning. It was a five-hour surgery and he has had to have a number of fusions and metal rod put into his back," a source told PEOPLE on Sunday. "He landed on his back when he fell from the bike. The injuries are bad but he's also been told he was lucky."

Cowell spoke out about his injury on social media on Sunday. "Some good advice... If you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it for the first time. I have broken part of my back," he shared. "Thank you to everyone for your kind messages. And a massive thank you to all the nurses and doctors. Some of the nicest people I have ever met. Stay safe everyone Simon."

Cowell did not take part in Tuesday's episode and will not be filming for Wednesday's broadcast. His participation for the rest of season 15 has not been determined.

America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays (at 8 p.m. ET) on NBC.