Simon Cowell on How AGT Will Move Forward amid Coronavirus — and What to Expect in Season 15
"I don't believe the future is going to be these remote shows. It's necessary at this time, but it's not the future," Simon Cowell tells PEOPLE
For season 15 of America's Got Talent, the motto appears to be: Keep calm and carry on.
The coronavirus pandemic has landed the production schedule up in the air, but the show's judge and executive producer Simon Cowell tells PEOPLE that the series intends to work around the shutdown until stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted.
Earlier this year, auditions were filmed in front of a live audience in Pasadena, California, before health and safety guidelines forced AGT to eliminate an audience altogether. A few more auditions were taped before production officially shut down with the absence of returning judge Heidi Klum, who fell in March and did not return to set.
"We started to realize that, for obvious reasons, the audience was getting smaller and smaller and smaller. We had this obligation to make sure that everyone got their fair share, and was auditioned well," Cowell recalls of the remaining in-person production dates, adding that it was "really, really important to every single person who turned up."
"So, we literally squeezed in as many, many people as we could," he says. "And as you'll see from the first episode, we found some unbelievably talented people — just fantastic people this year."
In addition to the audition episodes that were filmed, the show accepted online submissions from acts hunkered down at home.
"Anyone who we saw on that online component now can be considered to be one of the semi-finalists or finalists. They're pretty much in the same position as the people who did regular auditions," Cowell explains. "The important thing was trying to make sure that the people we missed, as much as possible, were still given an opportunity to compete in the show."
The live shows are scheduled to take place later this summer, and Cowell is determined to air them one way or another.
"We've worked out about three different scenarios for how we can shoot the live shows with or without an audience, or a limited audience. And each one of them creatively works," Cowell says. "The most important thing is that we have to ensure that since people have auditioned, that they do get the chance safely to be able to compete as they normally do, and get that chance to win a million dollars, or at least appear in the final."
The star adds, "So, we have been racking our brains, but I think that the creative solutions that we've come up with, I don't think are going to make the production or the show suffer. It definitely gives people the opportunity to do what they would normally do every year, and to make sure that we follow through on our promise that they're going to compete. There will be finals, and there will be a winner. Someone's going to walk away with a million dollars."
Despite the uncertainties, Cowell is optimistic about one day returning to how things used to be.
"I don't know how long it's going to last, but I would say coming out of this, we hope to be back to normal relatively quickly," he says.
"When you're all in the same boat, you've really, really got to use your brain now to go, 'Right, how is there a different way of doing something which still looks great, feels great, and feels as good as previous years?'" he continues. "Some of the new innovations I've already seen from other shows show me that there are different ways of producing these shows where the quality doesn't suffer, because I don't believe the future is going to be these remote shows. It's necessary at this time, but it's not the future."
At a time when multigenerational families are staying at home, Cowell sees AGT as "escapism" for all ages.
"I can't give too much away about the first episode, but it is an incredible show," he teases. "The feedback we had from the audience was just, 'Thank you for putting this show out. You could have delayed the production, but you didn't. You put it out.' The positive feedback we've had from families and kids, saying, 'Thank you for putting the show out,' has been amazing."
"For two hours, you can immerse yourself in it, and the stories are even more emotional than what you're previously used to," he adds.
Season 15 of America's Got Talent premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.