"I don't think the show would be what it is without him, genuinely," Simon Cowell says

By Karen Mizoguchi
May 28, 2019 02:22 PM
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Howie Mandel will make history as the star with the longest tenure on America’s Got Talent, with 10 consecutive seasons.

When season 14 premieres Tuesday night, viewers will see familiar faces Mandel and Simon Cowell, who serves as both executive producer and judges. But fans will be welcoming newcomers Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough, who replaced Mel B and Heidi Klum, as well as new host Terry Crews, who replaced Tyra Banks.

As Mandel kicks off his 10th-anniversary celebrations, Union, Hough, Cowell and Crews tell PEOPLE about the 63-year-old comedian’s impact and success on the NBC series.

“It’s awesome, it’s amazing,” Union, 46, says of Mandel’s feat. “He’s so fun and has made me feel very, very welcomed. He has the exuberance, I’m sure that he had on the first day and he’s never lost it. It’s infectious and the audience feeds off of it.”

Meanwhile, Hough, 30, believes the funny man’s compassion and positive vibes have proven to be his recipe for success.

“I’m just getting to know Howie for the first time, even though I’ve been watching him and have been a fan of his. It’s amazing, you can tell he’s been a show like this for 10 years because he’s passionate about helping people change their lives and make their dreams come true,” she says.

“There’s a genuine passion and care he has for the people that come on the show,” the former Dancing with the Stars judge and champion shares. “He’s just funny. He’s the comedian of the group, figuratively as well. He’s always good energy and bubbly mindset, and he keeps it real. He definitely has a voice and a platform. Everything he does is authentic to who he is. He encourages contestants and he’s relatable. I love Howie, I think he’s freakin’ awesome.”

Host Crews, 50, has been a longtime fan of Mandel’s and reveals that working with the star has been a pinch-me moment in his career.

“I have a long, long history with Howie Mandel. My favorite show of all time when I was a kid was Make Me Laugh and he had a lot of hair. He was my favorite guy on that show. He really was a part of why I do what I do, even now as a comedian and a comedic actor. Howie is a legend,” the Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor says, laughing. “Ten years on this show, he has created so much history and created so many careers. And helping people become their best, to live their dreams. Howie Mandel is the man! I love him like a big brother.”

Crews, who made his AGT hosting debut on the spinoff Champions, adds, “The first call I got after my first airing of Champions was over was from Howie. ‘Terry, I just want you to know we love you, we believe in you, we’re glad you’re here.’ I was weeping and got choked up.”

And last but not least, Cowell, who has worked with Mandel since season 11, praised the comedian.

“I don’t think the show would be what it is without him, genuinely,” Cowell, 59, says. “The minute I met him, I felt like he got us, he got the show and got what it’s all about. He’s going to be with us forever, he’s stuck with us.”

And the love is mutual, with Mandel applauding his costars this season, summarizing each star’s individual strengths as simply, “Wow!”

“Wow, the energy and excitement and heart that Terry brings to the hosting,” Mandel tells PEOPLE of Crews.

“Wow, the joy and insight of somebody like Julianne, who has been in this business since she’s been a baby. As a performer, as a producer, as an actress, and she is so beyond her years. She’s like a kid compared to me but so beyond her years and so heartfelt it is wow, what she gives people,” Mandel says of Hough. “Even physical critiques and inspirational kind of pep talks that make people walk away from whatever she says feeling better.”

As for L.A. Finest actress Union, Mandel has nothing but high praise.

“Gabrielle is a force to be reckoned with. She is smart, strong and beautiful,” he says. “And a businesswoman, a mom and a wife — I don’t know what the one word is except wow. As Gabrielle always says, ‘Bring it,’ and she always does. Just like Bring it On, except this one she’s the good girl.”

Justin Lubin/NBC

And Mandel has a soft spot for Cowell, whom he calls “sensitive.”

“There is no softer heart in the business than Simon. Simon will be honest and then you look at somebody’s face and you see maybe they’re taking it a little hard,” Mandel says. “As soon as we go to commercial and it’s not part of the show, he’s the first one on the stage to kind of assure them, to give them a hug and say, ‘No, I’m being honest. I think you’re good. Just listen to what I said. Try this and it’ll be great.’ And sometimes, no pain, no gain, but when pain is kind of shared it’s all for a greater cause.”

He adds of Cowell, “I think that he’s become more sensitive; I think we have become less sensitive to that kind of because I think that if you listen to what somebody’s saying more than how somebody is responding to that, he is really constructive. And that’s what I try to do and that’s what I try to live up to.”

Season 14 of America’s Got Talent premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.