787 Crew, left, Lil Starr and the Scott Brothers on "America's… (Virginia Sherwood/NBC )
Maybe Howard Stern hasn't turned himself into such a nice guy after all. During "America's Got Talent's" audition and Las Vegas rounds, which are taped and edited, the self-dubbed King of All Media seemed like a real prince, generally kind to children, old people and his fellow judges. But during the season's first week of live shows -- the first live results show, anointing four worthy semifinalists and featuring guest performances by Will.i.am and Cirque du Soleil, aired Tuesday night – he's come off as more self-aggrandizing and combative, unafraid to offer unapologetically harsh critiques to button-cute 6-year-olds, and yes, sometimes a little mean. In other words, out of the editors' clutches, he's … Howard Stern.
Not that the audiences at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center this week have seemed to mind. Co-judge Sharon Osbourne noted Monday that many of them were Stern's faithful followers who had come to see Stern be Stern.
Or maybe they came to see Stern be stern? In either case, they weren't disappointed.
One of the first contestants called to the stage to learn his fate Tuesday night, weird-musical-instrument player Michael Nejad, tried to get even with the shock jock for unloading on him at length the previous night by telling him in a video lead-in to "go to hell." But Stern fired back at Nejad, took digs at another contestant, Nikki Jensen, telling her that her "act stayed in Vegas," and even seemed to scare host Nick Cannon a little.
Apparently Stern has in the past made fun of Cannon's grammar. ("America have voted"?) Poor Nick. He protested that any verbal missteps must have been due to teleprompter troubles.
Stern reassured Cannon that he had no beef with him and that he, Osbourne and Howie Mandel had been "very welcoming." But Cannon didn't look altogether reassured.
Stern's biggest transgression this week, however, may also have been his greatest triumph. He correctly predicted all four of the evening's winners, pumping up his own rep at the expense of the show. "America's Got Talent" results may often be unsurprising, but Stern's predictions made them seem like a mere formality – barely worth watching. Who knows how that will affect ratings?
In any event, as Stern, who calls himself "America's judge," predicted, the four acts who advanced Tuesday to the semifinals were father/daughter singing duo Shanice & Maurice Hayes, fraternal dance duo the Scott Brothers, performing painter David Garibaldi and his CMYKs, and 14-year-old singing, piano-playing, yarmulke-wearing cutie Edon.
In Stern's defense, though he hardly needs my defending, he's very kind to the contestants he likes, assuring some of them that they have the goods to make it all the way. And there's something to be said for a judge who is unafraid to tell it like it is – or at least as he sees it. Osbourne and Mandel sometimes seem unnecessarily coy. Stern clearly believes it's better to be cruel to be kind.
What do you think? Did the right contestants make it through Tuesday night? And do you think any of them have a shot at the win?
'America's Got Talent' recap: Stern hits hard in quarterfinals
'America's Got Talent' recap: 48 acts got lucky in Vegas
'America's Got Talent' recap: Things get rolling in Vegas on Day 2