Prepare for the worst and the results can only be better than you expected. That's the lesson naysayers learned on Monday night when radio talker Howard Stern made his long-awaited debut as the new judge on "America's Got Talent."
Stern, a huge fan of the show who has been talking up his new gig for months on his SiriusXM satellite radio show did exactly what he promised : he was a fair, sometimes silly, sometimes harsh judge with a heart of gold and a soft spot for sappy stories. Hell, the notoriously Purell-addicted germaphobe even lumbered up onto the stage to hug a particularly sweaty, not-so-great singer after giving him a second chance at fame.
After dismissing the pre-debut hand-wringing by the Parents Television Council that Stern's penchant for R-rated humor might leak over into the family-friendly show as "a foolish presumption," Los Angeles Times writer Robert Lloyd wrote that such fretting, "sells short the show's producers and misreads Stern, who has shown himself perfectly capable of good behavior on other people's turf."
Despite an introductory montage set to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" that set up his bad-boy reputation and a joke about how NBC execs must be "out of their mind" for taking a risk on him," Lloyd said it was quickly evident that, "like fellow judges Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel, he [Stern] meant to play the game the way the game is meant to be played, because, to a deep degree, he believes in it."
In a headline in which it said the shock jock, "becomes a beloved uncle," the Washington Post's TV reviewer mixed the sweet and sour in offering backhanded praise to the radio veteran. "Somewhere along the way to the collapse of Western civilization, pioneer shock-jock Howard Stern became a sweet old man, perhaps staving off our multimedia Armageddon," wrote critic Hank Stuever. "At least that's the story line presented along with Stern's canny decision to join -- at a reported fee of about $20 million -- NBC's goony amateur performance competition, 'America's Got Talent,' as its newest judge."
Stuever yawned at Stern's rehashing of old bits about his looks and the size of his manhood, and said he did "dish out a tiny bit of brutal honesty," but mostly came to "bask in the show's trademark combination of awkwardness, ingenuity and love" and delivered "apple-pie pronouncements more typical of presidential candidates."
The embrace was slightly warmer at the New York Daily News, which explained that, "to appreciate Howard Stern's debut as a judge on 'America's Got Talent' Monday night, just remember this: Inviting Stern on 'AGT' is not like inviting the Sex Pistols to crash 'La Traviata' at the Met. 'America's Got Talent' didn't hire Stern to inject outrageous and wacky. It didn't need to. It has 'em already."
Critic David Hinckley said that Stern settled in quickly and comfortably on the show, praising him for being honest and getting caught up in the show's "figurative group hugs and four-handkerchief moments." The question remains of how Stern will deal when the goofy acts are gone and he has to make tough decisions between talented acts with widely differing skills. "There was no indication he can't do it. But all Monday proved for sure is this is the show where he belongs."
People magazine seconded those emotions, writing, "Stern showed a lot of heart and proved he's got talent — for judging!"
What did you think of Stern's debut on "America's Got Talent"? Let us know in comments below.