"Every day we seem to wake up to a new surprise," Heidi Klum tells PEOPLE about the unpredictability of the show's production changes during the coronavirus pandemic

By Karen Mizoguchi
July 28, 2020 09:00 AM
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Heidi Klum is returning to her judge's chair!

After taking a short hiatus in early spring, the star, 47, is back on a new episode of America's Got Talent for the season 15 Judge Cuts, which were filmed in June and followed unprecedented safety protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahead of Tuesday's elimination round, Klum tells PEOPLE what it was like to adjust to a new stage and format after missing weeks of production and having guest judge Eric Stonestreet temporarily fill in for her.

"I am so thankful that Eric was able to jump in for me. He was fantastic!" says the model, who watched the audition episodes she couldn't film at home. "I thought the acts were great and I hope I will get to see some of them when we get to live rounds."

Klum, who fell ill on set and tested negative for the coronavirus in late March, was welcomed back alongside fellow judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara, all of whom were able to "catch up on life and our changing world" following nearly three months apart.

"Production followed the current protocols for getting back to set and upon arrival, we followed all health and safety guidelines to ensure everyone's safety. I think it goes without saying that everyone on the AGT team is thankful to be working and putting on a show for America," Klum says.

Describing the new format and what surprised her the most, Klum says she hadn't seen anything like it in the eight seasons (including AGT: Champions) she's been a judge on the franchise. "Every day we seem to wake up to a new surprise," she shares. "I am so grateful that our producers and crew are finding creative ways to shoot while keeping everyone's safety in mind.  I know it can't be easy."

For the Judge Cuts, producers created a drive-in movie-themed set in Simi Valley, California, where the judges and host Terry Crews watched the contestants' pre-taped performances on a giant screen via video conference.

"We shot this episode on a drive-in movie set and I thought that was a great way to keep us distanced but still keep it looking fun for the viewers at home," Klum shares. "It may not look like our usual AGT set, but it gives new energy to the show. I love it. I am truly thankful that we can even record the show and keep on showcasing this amazing talent."

AGT is among the first major competition shows to return to production since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown filming in the spring.

"I miss so many things: Friends and family that stop by to see the show, a full dressing room with my glam team, goofing around with Howie backstage and chasing after him, dancing and getting all the butterflies out before the show starts," Klum says.

"The energy you experience in AGT theater of people all together is so special and one of a kind," the mother of four explains, adding that she misses "hugging the contestants, running through the aisles of the theater, and high-fiving all the fans that have come to see the show."

As the next stages of the competition remain up in the air due to the ever-changing pandemic protocols, Klum says: "I feel for the contestants and I am rooting for everyone coming onto that stage to show us their best performance."

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