America's Got Talent's Long History of Judges & Hosts
The veteran TV host kicked off the premiere season in 2006 as the show's very first host. He worked alongside the season 1 panel of judges to eventually crown Bianca Ryan as the winner, but his short-lived gig came to an end because of his "heavy travel schedule" between filming AGT and Live! with Regis and Kelly, according to Variety.
The British journalist and TV personality was part of the original judging cast — which included David Hasselhoff and Brandy Norwood — for six seasons until he revealed on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2011 that he would be stepping down.
“I’ve loved every single second, but discovered that juggling, to my surprise really is a bit more difficult than I thought,” Morgan quipped during his exit announcement, reported by Reuters.
The move allowed Morgan to replace Larry King and his longtime CNN show, Larry King Live, with his own show, Piers Morgan Live, after King announced his retirement in 2010. However, his inherited prime-time slot only lasted from 2011 to 2014 before it was canceled due to low ratings, according to the New York Times.
The former Baywatch star held his post for four seasons until he told PEOPLE in 2010 that he would be stepping down to pursue his own TV show.
"I am proud that I was part of making America’s Got Talent the No. 1 rated show for the past four summers," he said in an exclusive statement. "It’s been a rewarding experience and now I’m thrilled to be able to follow my dream to do my own TV show, which will be announced very shortly.”
The reality show A&E had set in motion for the star, The Hasselhoffs, was pulled off air after only two episodes. The series was supposed to follow Hasselhoff as he helped his two daughters, Taylor Ann and Hayley, launch their music careers. However, the first episode drew 718,000 viewers and the second dropped to 505,000, which likely influenced the decision to end the show.
The singer was only on the show for one season, and while the reason she left was never confirmed, multiple reports cite her involvement in a four-car accident in L.A. in 2006, which resulted in the death of Awatef Aboudihaj, as the reason she made her exit and was replaced by Sharon Osbourne, according to the New York Post.
After stepping in for Norwood, Osbourne spent the next six seasons on the show as a judge. And while she explained that it was "a great show to work on" to her The Talk castmates, she also said she left because of the network, NBC.
“Everybody’s experience on a show is different, and I was at that show for six years. I didn’t get let go,” Osbourne said on The Talk.
“I left. And that’s the truth. I left because NBC, not because of the show. I had my own problems with the network. I don’t know about any of her concerns about the show,” Osbourne said of future judge Gabrielle Union's controversial firing in November 2019, in which Union was let go after she had expressed concerns over racial- and gender-insensitive situations during her time on the show.
“Obviously, there wasn’t anybody of color on the panel when I was there. So, I honestly can’t say. But when I was there it was, you know, a great show to work on,” she said.
After taking over as host once Philbin left, Springer left in 2009 to focus on his starring role as lawyer Billy Flynn in the London production of Chicago, according to the New York Post.
“Maybe one day I’ll host again,” he told the outlet, “but right now I’m grabbing this opportunity.
Springer also shared that he left on amicable terms with NBC.
“NBC was very nice to me and they were totally OK with [my leaving],” he added. “The truth is, they probably want someone who’s younger and better-looking than me anyway — and that’s not hard to find, honestly.”
The Wild 'n Out creator hit the ground running after taking Springer's spot as host on season 4, but after his lengthy stay, he left on shaky terms with NBC.
Cannon announced on Facebook in February 2017 that he would not be returning to host after “Executives” allegedly threatened to fire him because of a joke in his Showtime comedy special.
“So I wish AGT and NBC the best in its upcoming season but I can not see myself returning,” Cannon wrote. “This hurts tremendously. I felt like I was apart of the fabric of our great nation every summer, representing every culture, age, gender, and demographic. Now for the rug to be pulled from underneath me and to be publicly reprimanded and ridiculed over a joke about my own race is completely wrong and I have to do something about it.”
Reps for NBC and for Cannon have yet to respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The veteran radio host took Morgan's spot after he left after season 6, and he stayed until taking a final bow in 2015. Stern announced the news on his own radio show, The Howard Stern Show, saying, “I really, really did struggle with this decision because I’ve been working a long time. I really wanted to decide if this was going to take away too much free time.”
In December 2019, after Union's controversial firing, the former AGT judge stood up for the actress and accused series creator Simon Cowell of orchestrating the situation.
“He sets it up that the men stay, no matter how ugly they are, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how talentless they are,” Stern said on his radio show, referring to Union and former judge Julianne Hough, who was also fired, and the “excessive notes” they both reportedly received on their physical appearance during their time as judges on the show.
“But what he manages to do on all his shows is he constantly replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. Which is so obvious,” Stern added.
A rep for Cowell did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment regarding Stern’s remarks.
Once Hasselhoff left after season 3, Mandel stepped in in 2010 and has continued his role as the longest-serving judge on AGT.
“The first word that comes to mind is unbelievable. I would never have dreamed that I would be here 10 years,” Mandel told PEOPLE in May 2019.
“I was a fan of this show from the premiere and I had seen some amazing talent. I’m fascinated by anybody and anything that’s willing to get on stage and try to conjure an audience reaction,” he said.
Though he attributes his success to being “gorgeous and authentic," Mandel also shared: “I think if I had to put one word on why NBC keeps me on the show, I would say affordable. I would like other people to know I’m affordable. It doesn’t cost you that much, I’ll show up.”
Mandel has yet to comment on the firing of Union and Hough.
Melanie 'Mel B' Brown
After Osbourne's departure, the former Spice Girl joined the panel and held things down until she left in February 2019. When she parted ways with the show, Brown already had plans lined up to travel across the U.K. for the 2019 Spice Girls reunion tour.
While on the show, the star infamously threw water on then-fellow judge Cowell and stormed off the stage after he made a crude joke about her wedding night. The incident went down while Brown was in the middle of a divorce from estranged husband Stephen Belafonte.
The supermodel started her journey as a judge alongside Mel B, and made her exit at the same time as the former Spice Girl.
A source close to the AGT production told Entertainment Tonight that NBC simply wanted to "change things up" when execs decided to say goodbye to Brown and Klum.
"It was a network decision. The show does well because it has no problem adding new people and making changes," the source added. "There was no drama."
After Stern left the show, the creator himself stepped in to become a judge, and has been ever since. He has recently come under a lot of scrutiny over how the 2019 firing of Union and Hough was handled.
A source told PEOPLE that Cowell “runs the show” and gets what he asks for a majority of the time.
“It’s true that America’s Got Talent is a boy’s club. Simon runs the show and as long as he’s there, he will continue to do so,” said the source.
“Everything goes by him and he’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” the source explained, adding that people who work on the show will rarely “tell him, ‘no.’”
PEOPLE is out to Cowell’s rep for comment.
Once Cannon cut ties with the show, the supermodel came on to host in 2017 and then left one year later.
According to Page Six, the America’s Next Top Model creator left to focus on producing TV and movies.
Reps for Banks and AGT did not immediately return PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
By 2019, a whole new group joined the cast, including now-host Crews.
The actor, who currently hosts The Champions iteration of the NBC talent competition show, took over for Banks when Union and Hough stepped in to take over for Mel B and Klum as judges.
“One of the many secrets to the success and longevity of America’s Got Talent is its fearless drive to reinvent itself,” Meredith Ahr, president of the alternative and reality group at NBC Entertainment, told PEOPLE in a February 2019 statement. “The next evolution of the format brings in fresh expert eyes to join Simon and Howie on the panel. Gabrielle and Julianne are two of the most aspirational women in the business, on top of being electric entertainers with talent across disciplines. I am excited to see how their knowledge, compassion and sheer joy enhance the experience for acts and viewers alike. As their partner in crime, host Terry Crews will continue to light up the stage with his quick wit and unending charm.”
Crews has yet to comment on the firing of Union and Hough, outside of a tweet sent to Union saying, "You will be missed!"
Gabrielle Union & Julianne Hough
After Variety was the first to report that Union and Hough were not going to return to the show after only judging one season, a new report claimed that the reason for their firing was a result of the "toxic" workplace culture. Variety's secondary report claimed that Union had expressed concerns over racially insensitive situations during her time as a judge, including a joke guest judge Jay Leno made that was later edited out of the episode. It also said that both Union and Hough were subject to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance.
Hough denied reports of a negative experience to Variety, but has also spoken out in support of Union since.
A spokesperson for NBC and production company Fremantle responded to the claims with a statement to PEOPLE, saying: “America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”
Since then, many celebrities, including Union's husband Dwyane Wade, Ellen Pompeo, former judge Stern and Eva Longoria, have spoken out to support the stars after the controversial firing, and NBC has launched an investigation into the show after having a five-hour meeting with Union.
“The initial conversation was candid and productive,” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement to PEOPLE on Dec. 4, 2019, about the sit-down with Union.
“While there will be a further investigation to get a deeper understanding of the facts, we are working with Gabrielle to come to a positive resolution,” said the spokesperson.
After she said farwell to Modern Family after 11 seasons, Vergara has officially signed on to be a judge on AGT for season 15, PEOPLE confirmed on Feb. 28, 2020.
Vergara said in a statement, “I’m so happy to join my new family on AGT. This is a new and exciting next chapter for me and I’m extremely proud to be the first Latin judge on the show. I can’t wait to watch all the talent and have fun with all you guys!”
“Sofia’s infectious energy and sharp wit will blend perfectly with returning favorites Heidi, Simon, Howie, and Terry. As both a respected actress and successful entrepreneur, she embodies the American dream that is synonymous with AGT’s transformative stage,” said Meredith Ahr, President, Alternative & Reality Group, NBC Entertainment.
“As we head into our milestone 15th season, we are excited to welcome Sofia to the AGT family,” said Trish Kinane, President of Entertainment Programming, Fremantle. “We are also delighted at the return of the amazing Heidi Klum and look forward to a lot of fun as these dynamic, accomplished women join Simon, Howie and host Terry Crews to inspire contestants in a fun-filled and unpredictable series.”
Former judge Heidi Klum will also be returning after a short hiatus. The model was on the second season of AGT‘s spin-off show, America’s Got Talent: The Champions, which premiered on Jan. 6 and wrapped on Feb. 17, along with newcomer Alesha Dixon as well as Cowell and Mandel.
“I’m so excited to be back at ‘AGT’ with Simon, Howie and Terry. The fact that Sofia Vergara is joining us is the icing on an already delicious cake,” Klum said in a statement.