The British entertainment mogul returns to the NBC talent show competition for its 18th season, premiering Tuesday (8 EDT/PDT). Cowell is joined by returning judges Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Sofía Vergara, as well as host Terry Crews.
From a metal choir to a singing ventriloquist to A.I. illusionists, “AGT” runs the gamut of top-tier talent – but always with a twist, and this season is no different. Heavy metal veterans Steel Panther rock the "AGT" stage with '80s pop flair, while puppeteer Shadow Ace captivates with his high-energy shadow play act.
Cowell says that while this uncertainty is part and parcel of the show, the unpredictability of contestants’ acts has reached shocking new heights this season.
“My favorite thing about the show is surprise. It’s just not knowing what somebody is going to do, and that’s what you’re going to see a lot of this year, Cowell tells USA TODAY. “People are going to walk out and you have no idea what they’re going to do, and then it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Here’s what else Cowell had to say about the latest season of “AGT.”
Who won latest season of 'AGT'? Sofía Vergara's Golden Buzzer the Mayyas crowned Season 17 winner over pole dancer Kristy Sellars
'I was so unfit': Simon Cowell says 'painful' bicycle accident made him reflect on health
Simon Cowell talks ‘torture’ of losing his voice, embracing ‘healthy’ disagreement with judges
The quintessential tough judge dating back to his years on "American Idol," Cowell has gained a reputation over the course of his career for his brutally honest commentary on contestants’ talent. So what happens when the loudest critic in the room can’t utter a single word?
Cowell found out when he unexpectedly lost his voice at the start of filming Season 18 after something became stuck in his throat.
“I think what happened was the acid from my stomach literally burned my vocal cords,” Cowell says. “So this doctor came over and put a camera up my nose, down my throat, and I could actually see how badly burnt they were.”
With no guarantee of when his voice might return, Cowell was forced to go on immediate vocal rest, a change that shook up the “AGT” judges’ panel with his lack of commentary onstage.
“It was torture. There was so much I wanted to say, and I literally could not talk,” Cowell says. “We tried writing things. At one point, I used this kind of iPad device where I had things I’d said before. I tried to use Sofía to translate for me, and she deliberately said the wrong things, so it was just chaos.”
But amid the chaos of losing his voice, Cowell says he was able to see his co-judges in a new light, including how opinionated they’d each become in their critiques.
“For about seven days, I had to sit there and not say anything, so all I could do was just listen to them. And it was very interesting, because they’ve all got enough confidence now that they have their own preferences,” Cowell says. “So we probably disagreed more this year, but in a healthy way. You can’t be an expert on everything when you judge this show, because of the variety of acts.”
'In a different league': Kodi Lee's joyous return on 'AGT: All-Stars' mesmerizes Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell teases ‘sensational’ Golden Buzzer act, talks rivalry with ‘Britain’s Got Talent’
“AGT” may be known for spotlighting the uncontainable talent in the US of A, but Cowell says the cultural diversity of the show has grown in recent years and will be reflected this season, which he has nicknamed “World’s Got Talent.”
“What’s happened over the past few years is that people now are flying in from all over the world to perform on the show,” Cowell says. “You’re going to see and meet some people who are jaw-droppingly good.”
One of these astounding acts includes Cowell’s Golden Buzzer pick, among this cutting-edge crop of talent.
“This person is sensational,” Cowell said of the contestant. “You always hope that you’re going to see things (and) meet people you’ve never seen before, and that’s where the show has evolved into.”
The Emmy-nominated show has also provided stiff competition for its British counterpart, “Britain’s Got Talent.” Cowell, who also serves as a judge on the British version, says the shows sometimes wind up vying for the same top talent.
“We should be friends but they’re not, because everybody wants to cast the best acts for both shows, which I personally love,” Cowell says. “Sometimes, I’ll see an act on ‘BGT,’ and I’m thinking the American producers are going to be really upset when they see this and vice versa when I’m doing it in America…because they always want to find the best people, and sometimes they’re fighting to get them on their show.”
'Best performance I've seen all series': Teacher floors Simon Cowell on 'AGT: All-Stars'
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'AGT': Simon Cowell talks Season 18, 'torture' of losing voice on show