Talent Show created by Simon Cowell which takes the American Idol concept and expands it to pretty much anything you think people will pay to see (or not, in the case of the bad acts). It was launched in 2006 and is still ongoing. People audition to win $1,000,000 and (since Season 3) a one-year contract to do a show in Las Vegas. Performers go in front of three (four as of Season 8) judges equipped with buzzers, if all the judges buzz then the act will end prematurely. The show has been hosted by Regis Philbin (Season 1), Jerry Springer (Seasons 2 and 3), and Nick Cannon (Season 4 onward); and the judges are (current ones in bold):
The first half of each season sees the judges travel the country holding open auditions, putting forward any act that's worthy enough to consider. Then comes "Judgment Week" where all the decent acts are gathered and the judges choose which ones are actually going to compete in the live shows. The last half of the season takes place in Hollywood (in earlier seasons) or New York (Season 7 onward) with live shows where viewers vote on who goes forward, though the judges get to pick between acts on the fence (for example, the top three vote-getters go through and the judges choose between the fourth- and fifth-place acts) and they still offer their opinions and can use their buzzers to register displeasure.Two memorable performers, Jackie Evancho and Prince Poppycock (both Season 5 finalists) have their own trope pages.Britain's Got Talent is its Trans Atlantic Equivalent.
Broadcast Live: When the acts compete for the audiences' votes, it switches to live broadcast.
Brutal Honesty: Morgan and Stern have played the role of the judge who gives out the most of this.
The Bus Came Back: Season 6 had an act called the Miami All-Stars ran by a married couple, a group of very talented dancers. Season 7 would feature the Untouchables, which the married couple from the Miami All-Stars had trained. Now Season 8 has the youngest Untouchable dancer, Ruby, and her partner, and her brother with his partner.
Butt Monkey: Being the host, poor Nick is the go-to choice whenever an act needs an assistant of some sort. This usually results in him being put in danger or humiliated, sometimes both. Howie lampshades this during a clip show in Season 9, noting Nick has the toughest job on the show and it's to the point a performer just has to ask him to come on stage for the judges to crack up, because they know what's coming.
Crazy Enough to Work: A lot of acts are either so fantastic, or so ridiculous, that there's no way they can succeed, but they do. An example from Season 7 is a man playing a broom shaft like a flute.
Cuteness Proximity: Sharon Osbourne immediately starts applauding when an animal act opens with a bunch of cats jumping out of a box. In fact, she acts like this with just about every animal act.
Deliberately Cute Child: There's always a few acts that probably wouldn't get as far as they did if they weren't cute kids, and at least one such act will have a comment to the effect that while the act is amazing itself, it's even more amazing because the performer(s) is/are so young.
Enemy Mime: During the Season 9 auditions, one incident involved a mime that got really hostile when he was buzzed. Subverted as it was Nick playing a prank.
Epic Fail: In Season 6, Kinetic King spent two or three days setting up a Chain-Reaction Gadget (NOT a Rube Goldberg Device) for his first Hollywood performance, but when the time came to set it off it failed to do much of anything for no discernible reason. To everybody's credit, he took the failure in stride and the audience and judges acted sympathetically. (He was later given a do-over on the Wild Card show, and America put him through to the semifinals.)
The YouTube episode for Season 7 was a failure on so many levels, with the largest number of acts ever buzzed in one quarterfinal. It really says something about your show when one of the highlights of the night was a dancing handkerchief. It's also telling that this was the last time they did such a show.
Cristin Sandu, a balancing act from season 7, fell on-stage in his quarterfinal, abruptly ending his performance. He says that he never fell before in a performance. He was brought back for the Wild Card, but fell again.
For one that never made it to air, comedian The Greg Wilson performed a bit in the Season 8 auditions that he stole... from the warm-up man, Frank Nicotero... who was standing right there... and it was his signature bit. Which Howie showed the other judges on YouTube. Wilson got past the judges at first, but was promptly disqualified for theft and his footage cut from the broadcast before airing. For more info, here's a Game Show Garbage column about the incident.
Escape Artist: Spencer Horsman (Season 7), who claims to be the world's youngest escapist.
Alexandria the Great (Season 8), who is a middle-aged female escape artist.
Even the Guys Want Him: Found amongst the many YouTube comments on Prince Poppycock was "I'm not gay, but if I were, I'd want to test those lips."
Stupid Sexy Prince Poppycock?
Executive Meddling: A couple times, when the judges believed an act made a bad song choice, the performers mention that producers influenced that decision (Arcadian Broad in Season 4 with a High School Musical number, the Fiddleheads doing "Billie Jean" in Season 6).
Follow the Leader: Since the success of Fighting Gravity in Season 5, every year has seen at least one notable group that uses similar light-on-a-darkened-stage effects (Team iLuminate in Season 6, two or three in Season 7 but Lightwire Theater is the most similar).
Freudian Trio: The judge panel played out like this until it became a four-judge panel.
Superego: Piers, Howard (the latter leans a bit towards ego thanks to some lightheartedness, though)
Funny Background Event: In Season 8, Kenichi Ebina became known for dance routines that interacted with prerecorded footage played behind him; and after one based on a Mirror Routine the footage kept going even after the act ended, with "Mirror!Kenichi" playing around during the judging.
Gag Boobs: Busty Heart, an auditionee in Season 3, whose boobs were so big she crushed cans with them.
Genre Blind: Despite slow, sleepy acts in the quarter-finals and beyond being pretty much a guarantee of getting axed from the competition, people keep trying them.
Genre-Busting: Kenichi Ebina. Is he a dancer? Mime? Video director? What he does defies explanation.
Groin Attack: One performer in Season 5 had a vaguely-defined act that seemed to center around setting his crotch on fire. In itself...not very funny. Getting buzzed almost immediately by two of the judges, followed by Nick (who had gotten roped into helping him by handing him a lighter) begging Howie to press the final buzzer? Probably not the kind of laughs he intended, but...
Hopeless Auditionees: Many genuine, but with a few notable subversions. Admit it, how many of you thought Prince Poppycock was going to be a train wreck before he started singing?
The biggest subversion of them all? Kenichi Ebina, the Japanese immigrant who many thought was going to be another train wreck based on the fact that his English was broken, which this show loves to exploit. Then his performance began, and we saw his "dance-ish" moves. Then comes Radio City Music Hall, and we saw his creativity and genius. Then comes the finale, and we saw himwin.
Hypocrite: In the semi-finals of Season 8, Mel B told The Amazing Red Panda she doesn't like her performance since she's seen her do it it before. Yet she used her Wildcard pick on Tone the Chiefrocca, the aspiring one-hit wonder artist who sings the same song every time he comes on.
Incendiary Exponent: A common tactic among acts. For example in Season 6, Sandou Trio Russian Bar added it to a bed of nails, and Summerwind Skippers added it to a long jump rope.
Iwo Jima Pose: Utilized by dance group Silhouette in their Season 6 "Thank You America" performance.
Jerkass: Piers runs on Brutal Honesty, but often crosses into just plain mean. He also has a tendency to act, and sometimes outright say, that Sharon's and Howie's opinions are wrong, solely because they conflict with his. For example, in Season 6 Lys Agnes's performance got a lukewarm reception from Howie and Sharon. Then came time for Piers:
Howie began to slip into this during the same season with his antagonism of Piers. Just because the guy's mean doesn't mean you need to spray him with water from a squirt bottle or blow an air horn to drown him out.
Made of Iron: The Smage Bros., a stunt biking act in Season 6, have this opinion of their assistant Troy Smalls, as he risks his life getting injured constantly, and does get injured at times, but keeps coming back.
The Mean Brit: Piers, although he really will compliment acts that are good more often than Simon does on American Idol. Still, he's the only judge who still made regular use of his buzzer once the competition moved into the popular-vote phase.
Memetic Hand Gesture: During introductions, Howie does a thing where he waves his hand in front of his face and ends up pointing, and Sharon holds her hands in a heart symbol. Late in Season 7, Howard would poke fun at these by making a Running Gag of doing his own elaborate hand gestures for his introduction.
Muppet Cameo: Terry Fator got to preform with Kermit in the Season 2 finals, where they got "judged" by the Swedish Chef, Beaker, and Animal. Kermit and Piggy were also guest performers in Season 4 (and when Nick got annoyed by some of the chicken backup singers, he threatened to sic contestant Kevin Skinner - a chicken farmer in his day job - on them).
My Greatest Second Chance: Donald Braswell, who finished fourth in Season 3, got into the Top 40 because a Russian Bar act had to withdraw due to injury. Since then the judges get to make Wild Card picks of previously-eliminated acts to give another try in the semifinals.
Never Trust a Trailer: Comes up from time to time, but two blatant back-to-back examples during Season 7's auditions: First, episode promos suggested that a human cannonball stunt would go horribly wrong when in reality it went fine; and then the next episode showed that a girl would get hurt during an act that involved a chainsaw - but the injury was that she got lockjaw from holding a huge apple in her mouth during the act, not anything chainsaw-related.
Another from Season 8 had a commercial for the final auditions episode of the season that implied there was going to be a "Susan Boyle moment" (as said by Howard Stern). It showed an old woman with white hair that's curled like Stern's coming out to the stage before the words "Susan Boyle moment" was said. When she finally came out near the end of the episode, it turned out that she was a bad singer who was simply a big fangirl of Howard and likely only came on the show to meet him. Stern, who was on stage with her rather than in his seat as shown on the commercial, did say the words, but it was obvious that Susan Boyle she ain't. NBC, you trolls.
Nice Hat: Anything worn or made by Hannibal Means (Season 5).
Michael Grimm (also from Season 5) is rockin' that fedora.
Howie got one in Season 7, though for one show (shown both that night and in a behind-the-scenes montage the next night) he couldn't make up his mind to wear it or not.
Season 7 again: sand artist Joe Castillo's beret, though Howard isn't a fan of it.
Well, since I'm not exactly sure what Piers does for a living I think I'll go with the opinion of the actual comedian.
Old Media Playing Catch-Up: Averted; the first seven seasons had a special round where people audition over a social networking site (originally MySpace, later YouTube). In Seasons 5-7, the guest performances for the YouTube results shows are viral video stars as well. This was dropped after Season 7, as beyond Jackie Evancho they've almost never produced anything good from these special MySpace/YouTube shows (and the S7 show was a particularly big failure); Season 9 has its own home-submission contest but run through The Today Show rather than a website.
One-Hit Wonder: Tone the Chiefrocca in Season 8 aimed to become this with his rap number "B-Double-O-T-Y".
One Steve Limit: Averted as of Season 7, which includes a Howie and a Howard on the judging panel (Mandel and Stern, respectively).
Polly Wants a Microphone: Trained parrot acts occasionally appear. Season 6 had a couple get past Vegas Week, though they didn't last long in the vote.
Product Placement: In the audition rounds there's a sponsor-branded segment (Orvill Redenbacher's popcorn for a few seasons, replaced with Reddi Whip whipped cream in Season 9) where the judges discuss the acts backstage; for the live rounds this is replaced with an segment during the results shows, where the performers are shown hanging out after the previous night's show and Nick discusses their acts with them. Season 7 adds Snapple as a sponsor, with their name attached to various aspects of the show and branded cups prominently placed on the judges' table.
Real-Life Relative: Nick Cannon's wife Mariah Carey did a guest performance during Season 4's finals.
Reality Subtext: In the first episode back after Season 7's break for the Olympic Games, Nick's introduced Sharon as "the irreplacable Sharon Osbourne". Sharon had announced during the interrim that she was leaving the show.
Refuge in Audacity: A few acts are actually able to make it through the audition round due to sheer audacity.
Reviewer Standard Comparisons: Howie often compares dance acts, especially ones by kids, to amateur dance recitals. Most look too much like said recitals for him to get excited about, but he praised the Untouchables in Season 7 for being absolutely professional and not recital-ish at all.
J. Chris Newberg gave one to Piers in Season 6. Ironically, it was this performance that he was able to win Piers over after being a target of his criticism in all previous episodes.
For the traditional performance with a celebrity in Season 7's finale, comedian Tom Cotter teamed up with Joan Rivers to roast the judges and Nick.
The Runner Up Takes It All: A few acts may not have won, but they went on to be successful regardless. In Season 5, they brought back some alumni for guest performances: dance group JabbaWockeeZ auditioned in Season 2 before hitting it big on America's Best Dance Crew and moving on to a successful tour and Las Vegas contract; Season 4's third-placers, Recycled Percussion, now have a show in Vegas as well; and Quick Change's act from Season 1 became a YouTube hit and are now the NBA's official halftime act.
It's been theorized that the only reason that 10-year-old Jackie Evancho was the runner-up in Season 5 is that producers felt uncomfortable about having a 10-year-old act in Las Vegas. (Season 1 did not have a Las Vegas deal in its grand prize, allowing 11-year-old Bianca Ryan to win the competetion without any regrets.)
Lindsey Stirling made it as far as the quarter-finals in Season 5. Thanks to subsequent exposure on YouTube, she now has a lucrative touring and recording career.
Shocking Elimination: Especially in Season 4's Vegas round. Kari Callin, Tallan Noble Latz, Ciana Pelekai, The Spiritual Harmonizers, Rashida Jolley, and Kelli Glover, just to name a few.
The Season 4 act Acrodunk was even stated by the judges to be one of the best acts in the competition and was almost certainly the most entertaining to watch of the season. Even the judges were shocked by their elimination.
Season 5 semi-finals, week one: Four acts are called to the stage, among them season favorites ArcAttack, decidedly-less-favorite-but-still-likable Future Funk, as well as creepy magician Dan Sperry and mediocre singer Kristina Young. Guess who got through? None of them! Even the judges and Nick couldn't hide their "WTF?" reactions.
Subverted in the Season 6 semifinals. Anna Graceman and Landau Murphy Jr. were called to the stage during the results, and it was announced that Anna went through. And then, when it seemed like Landau was being exit-interviewed, Nick Cannon told him that he got through too. Cue a huge surprised look from everyone.
Season 7's Vegas round eliminated fan-favorite opera singer, Andrew De Leon. It's shocking enough that fans started a petition to get him back on the show via the Wild Card episode. He was later saved by Howie for the Wild Card round and made it as far as the semifinals.
Speaking of Season 7, the fourth quarterfinal had way too many acts that deserved the four spots, as acknowledged by the judges. It wasn't as much of a Shocking Elimination as a shocking lineup that made shocking eliminations inevitable.
Season 8's live show eliminations started with Nick calling three acts on stage and announcing that none of them were going through. Twice, eliminating six acts before announcing someone who was voted into the semifinals.
There was also two acts (Alexander Magala, an acrobatic sword swallower, and Ciana Pelekai, formerly one of Season 4's shock eliminations, as shown above) losing to Marty Brown, who had completely blown it the night before.
The elimination of crowd and judge favorites, the acrobats KriStef Brothers, while another weak country singer, Jimmy Rose, remained in the competition. In fact, the Top 12 show itself felt weird, with a perfectly block split between the first six acts (all eliminated) and the final six acts (all advanced)
Sibling Rivalry: Played up in Season 8, where a brother and sister performed in different dance duos (see The Bus Came Back above), and the show pit them directly against each other as many times as possible.
Stealth Parody: Chipps Cooney's act in Season 5. Howie and Sharon thought he was hilarious, but Piers refused to believe he was going for Stylistic Suck. In the same season, Howie thought that this was what the Indian impersonator was going for...but given his reaction to Howie's explanation of it, he was just bad. In both of these, Howie was directing the respective acts and his fellow judges to see the So Bad, It's Good part.
Take That, Audience!: Piers delivered this when it was revealed male pole dancer Steven Retchless was in the Season 6 semifinals.
Piers: I think America did get it wrong.
Tempting Fate: When Terry Fator first took the stage, Piers infamously commented "Oh no, a ventriloquist." The hosts love to point out the irony in that statement whenever Terry returns for a performance.
Terrified of Germs: Howie's a well-known germophobe. It can get hilarious (in a Crosses the Line Twice kind of way) when a performer, intentionally or not, hits his panic button (see Dan Sperry in the Season 5 YouTube episode or the very first audition of Season 6).
That Came Out Wrong: While critiquing Lys Agnes' top 48 performance in Season 6, Howie starts off the way the other two judges did, by saying she looked stunning, however, he then added "The things I want to do to you." When everyone reacted, he clarified that he meant that he wanted to get a lot of people to vote for her.
He did it again at one point in Season 7, commenting that he didn't realize what he was saying until it came out of his mouth.
Too Quirky To Lose: Practically one of the show's selling points; there are a lot of weird acts that go on this show, and some of them go quite far.
Troll: Piers does this a bit in playing up his Mean Brit role (Nick even tends to call him an "ogre" when he buzzes cute kid acts). In turn, Howie trolled Piers in Season 6; even bringing back Those Funny Little People as one of his Wild Card picks just so he could watch Piers recoil in horror (whether Howie's trolling is Kick the Dog or Kick the Son of a Bitch is up to the viewer).
Visual Puns: The audition performance of Hopeless Auditionee Al Harris in Season 8 revolved around these - for instance, he pulled out a multi-hued window shade and proclaimed "I'm color-blind!" To be fair, he was committed to his performance and some of his jokes were Actually Pretty Funny.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Piers and Howie. Howard and Howie pick up the act to a lesser extent after Piers' leave.
What the Hell, Hero?: Hasselhoff gets this when he buzzed a sword swallowing act while the person was in the middle of downing a sword! It was very stupid and dangerous to do, the guy obviously flinches and backstage notes that it nearly caused him to pierce his stomach. Sharon and Jerry do call him out on this.
In Season 6, Howie commented that the dance group "Purrfect Angelz" was "the best Hooters [he]'s ever seen". Piers, who buzzed the group, semi-jokingly asked that Howie apologize to them.
Later in Season 6, Gymkana had to stop an act after a minor accident with a burning hoop. During the judges' review afterwards Nick chides Piers that maybe the slip-up happened because he broke their concentration by buzzing them earlier.
In Season 7, Howard verbally attacked Howie for supporting bad lounge singer Big Barry over better musical acts like Andrew De Leon and rock/R&B/hip-hop band Wordspit and the Illest! (Of course, Howard personally liked Horse the Groin Attack victim, so he's one to talk.)