Injured Simon Cowell finally returns to 'AGT'… but not in the way you'd expect

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·4 min read

Ever since the America’s Got Talent Season 15 live shows got underway last month, main judge Simon Cowell has been missing in action — due to the fact that he broke his back in a freak electric bike accident, and underwent a six-hour operation that included the insertion of a metal rod, just three days before the quarterfinals were set to begin. Kelly Clarkson and Kenan Thompson have filled in for Simon on recent episodes, but on Wednesday’s live results show, Simon “returned” to the set… albeit in puppet form.

It was a softer side of Simon, so to speak.

Howie Mandel and his Simon Cowell dummy (Photo: NBC)
Howie Mandel and his Simon Cowell dummy (Photo: NBC)

The debut of the bandaged-and-busted yet cuddly Simon facsimile was part of a silly filler skit starring Season 12’s champion, teen ventriloquist extraordinaire Darci Lynne. The purpose of this pre-taped sketch was ostensibly to showcase new judge Sofia Vergara’s ventriloquism act, which she’d regularly bragged about (even last week’s surprise guest, Sofia’s former Modern Family co-star Ed O’Neill, had mentioned her supposed secret talent). But, as is often the case with the real Simon, the faux felt Simon immediately pulled focus when he showed up on the arm of flesh-and-blood judge Howie Mandel.

Suffice to say, neither Sofia nor Howie would ever make it past the audition round on AGT with their amateur dummy acts. (Ironic, considering that crabby Howie had used his red-X button on the decidedly more polished puppet revue Lightwave Theater Company the night before.) Howie got Simon’s snooty British brogue all wrong, and he didn’t even try to keep his lips from moving. But Sofia, who’s supposedly been honing her ventriloquism skills for the past 11 years, didn’t fare much better. Thankfully, Darci and her puppet Edna salvaged the skit with an impeccably lip-sealed performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — which was perhaps a subtle nod to the above-mentioned Kelly Clarkson, as that was Kelly’s breakout song on American Idol Season 1.

Darci Lynne politely reacts to Sofia Vergara's ventriloquism act. (Photo: NBC)
Darci Lynne politely reacts to Sofia Vergara's ventriloquism act. (Photo: NBC)

But I must admit… that white-T-shirted Simon puppet was frickin’ adorable, bad accent and all. Some viewers might’ve even preferred him to the real Simon. This is because everything is better when puppets are involved. Whether it’s Feist singing with furry friends on Sesame Street, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog putting J.Lo and Bon Jovi in their place on Conan, the stars of Team America: World Police belting out expletive-riddled odes to the U-S-A, Sifl & Olly spoofing Devo on their brilliant short-lived MTV comedy series, Debbie Harry and Alice Cooper guesting on The Muppet Show, Lady Gaga hosting a Muppets Thanksgiving special, Spinal Tap opening for a puppet show in their memorable mockumentary, or even a puppet emo band called Fragile Rock, pop and puppets go together like Kermit and Miss Piggy. So, if the convalescing Simon Cowell can’t make it back to AGT any time soon, I’d be happy to see dummy Simon occupy his judging-panel seat for the remainder of the season — just as long as NBC hires a real professional, not Howie or Sofia, to pull his strings.

As for how the rest of this AGT season will actually pan out, the semifinals kick off next week, and on Wednesday night, five more acts advanced to that round. Lightwave Theater was not among those acts, nor were experimental dancer Noah Epps, cheer/drumline squads C.A. Wildcats and Divas & Drummers of Compton, or, most disappointingly, hilarious insult comic Alex Hooper, who I think Simon would have really enjoyed this week. I was delighted to see spoken-word artist and Howie’s Golden Buzzer pick, Brandon Leake, whose powerful Black Lives Matter poem had been the standout performance of Tuesday night, make it through. And I was unsurprised to see country music acts Broken Roots and Kenadi Dodds also sail into the top three, even though the latter had received lukewarm reviews from the judges for her well-meaning but trite original song. Rounding out this week’s top five were Dunkin’ Save instant vote winner, soul/pop diva Celina, and the judges’ save, hand-balancing act the Bello Sisters. I thought the judges might save gospel trio Resound instead, but they probably figured this season’s semifinals are already too loaded with musical contestants.

That being said, when the semifinals commence next Tuesday, there will be a wild-card act — and I am hoping that it’ll be one of two gone-too-soon musical acts: either glam-rocker Bonavega or jeweled-masked torch singer Sheldon Riley. See you then.

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