The current judging panel is made up of Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, and Sofia Vergara, each of whom ranks among the best of the 12.
Brandy Norwood, known professionally in her singing and acting career simply as Brandy, ranks at the bottom of the list only because she appeared in just a single season. She was one of the first judges, however, sitting on the panel with Piers Morgan and David Hasselhoff when the show premiered in 2006.
There was nothing particularly memorable about Brandy as a judge, though she showed her enthusiasm for the acts she loved. But she did make history as the first female judge on the show, and at a time when there were only three judges versus the now usual four.
Another who only lasted a single season, fans did not take to Julianne Hough as a judge on the show when she appeared for season 14. With a background as a professional dancer who had done some acting and singing as well, she is a multi-talented force in the entertainment business, which made her a viable judge justified in critiquing acts of all kinds.
However, she didn’t fit well on the panel. She did, however, get the chance to be part of the Golden Buzzer feature of the later seasons: she hit her buzzer for 12-year-old singer Luke Islam.
Joining the judging panel in season 14 alongside Hough, Gabrielle Union also only lasted a single season. The actor known for movies like 10 Things I Hate About You, which ranks among Gabrielle Union’s best movies, according to IMDb, departed from the show and the situation was met with plenty of controversies as she called out the show for being a “boy’s club,” among other criticisms.
The tension was palpable on screen as well, with viewers feeling that there wasn’t the kind of camaraderie on the panel as there had been in previous seasons. The truth behind the allegations remains to be seen, but in terms of judges to date, Union ranks near the bottom of the list for her lack of chemistry with the others on the panel.
One of the original judges back in 2006, Hasselhoff remained with the show through to season 4 after which his spot was replaced with Howie Mandel. He was one of the more well-known faces on the judging panel who had plenty of people auditioning feeling starstruck. When Brandy left the show after the first season, Hasselhoff was also the only American judge left with the other two being British.
Fans loved his quirky sense of humor, animated personality, and honest assessments of the people auditioning. However, it seemed the judges only got better and better as time went on.
Melanie Brown, otherwise known as Mel B or Scary Spice from The Spice Girls, was a judge on the show from seasons 8 through 13, making her one of the longest-running judges on the show. While a lot of her comments were repetitive, fans loved the beautiful and fun relationship between her and fellow judge Heidi Klum. Together, the pair were interesting alongside Howie Mandel and Howard Stern (later Simon Cowell.)
As one of the more high-profile judges, fans loved seeing Brown as did those who came on to audition, many of whom were fans of The Spice Girls. But what fans loved is that Brown was tough, not afraid to say “no” to acts she didn’t think were worthy.
Sharon Osbourne is a firecracker and her blunt honesty and hilarious personality translated well to the show where she served as a judge from season 2, taking over for Brandy, through to season 7, which is ranked the best season of AGT. After that, she was replaced by Mel B.
What made Osbourne’s time on the show the most interesting was when she would spar with Piers Morgan and later Howard Stern over acts they disagreed on. Her back and forth with Howie Mandel was also entertaining. She was honest but also kind, getting emotional over some contestants. If they spoke ill of her husband Ozzy, however, she was not afraid to speak her mind and put them in their place.
Fans love Heidi’s overly positive attitude and willingness to participate in an act when they need a volunteer. While she often gushes over acts that some fans don’t think deserve the accolades, she also has an eye for talent, like when she chose singer Sal Valentinetti as her Golden Buzzer.
On the show since season 9, briefly replaced by Hough in season 14 only to return for season 15 to date, Klum has a reputation for being the easiest judge. However, for stand-up comedians, she has had some fun back and forths with a few when she gave them “nos” because she simply didn’t find them funny. She became harsher over the seasons, but even when Klum says no to an act, she is always kind, and fans love the respect she gives even to acts that lack talent.
A controversial figure in anything he does, Piers Morgan was no different on America’s Got Talent when he was the judge from season 1 through to 6. He is always unapologetically himself and this is exactly the way he was when critiquing acts on the show, never afraid to spar with the audience and their boos.
Reminiscent of season 1 Simon Cowell on American Idol, Morgan could sometimes be rude to people auditioning on the show. While it was mean, it also made for great TV and fans appreciated his honesty, even if he did not deliver his feedback in the most politically correct way. With that said, acts knew that if Morgan gave them a “yes,” it truly meant something, which is the mark of a good judge.
Sofia Vergara has the kind of personality that is tough not to like, and the humor she demonstrated in acting roles like on Modern Family translates on the show. While she is always nice, she doesn’t hesitate to say if she doesn’t like an act, though she can easily be swayed by a loud and convincing live audience.
A judge from season 15 through to the current season, she seems to love the job. She and Simon Cowell have fun ribbing one another while she has a great relationship with Klum on camera, reminiscent of the dynamic between Klum and Mel B. Fans love every time Vergara reluctantly goes on stage to help an act, usually a dangerous act of some kind. Vergara is the AGT judge with the most Instagram followers.
Fans had a completely different view of Shock Jock radio DJ Howard Stern when he came on to the show to replace Piers Morgan in season 7 and remained on through season 10. While he was fair and honest, he was also, much to fan surprise, not too crass like the politically incorrect persona fans got to know through his lengthy radio career.
He was sweet, kind, and took a particular affinity to child acts. But he did not hold back when an act was too slow or boring, never hesitating to hit his buzzer. He took the job seriously, which fans appreciated, and always gave helpful feedback, whether it was a critique or applaud of an act. His booming voice and large stature made Stern a force on the show that fans were sad to see go.
The longest-running judge on the show, Howie Mandel has been on the panel since season 5 and remains one of the most beloved judges. His friendship with Cowell translates to the judging panel where they often joke with one another.
As a comedian, Mandel is quick-witted and has an affinity for corny jokes, which fans love. But surprisingly, he is also one of the harshest judges on the show, never afraid to say no to even young kids if he feels they aren’t ready for an act in Vegas. However, he also supports young talent, choosing to use his Golden Buzzer on many child acts like Grace VanderWaal, who went on to win the show, and Courtney Hadwin, whose audition clip is one of the most viral videos from the show. Hadwin is ranked one of the best contestants who lost AGT, according to Reddit. Mandel provides the much-needed comic relief, lightening the mood and even inspiring a dance troupe on season 17 who performed dressed like him.
When Howard Stern left the show, it was clear there were big shoes to be filled and there was only one man who could fill them to the satisfaction of fans: Simon Cowell. Indeed, he came to judge the American version of the show for which he serves as a creator. He has been a judge since season 11.
Cowell brings his typical brutal honesty and blunt nature, but he has also softened from the early days of American Idol, the show that introduced him to an American audience. He is sympathetic and sweet but also isn’t afraid to harshly judge an act. He has been known to tell a singer, for example, to go back and practice a different song than return to audition again. He will also break the rules to put through someone he feels passionately about. Often dubbed the favorite judge by many of the acts, fans love seeing older women flirt with Cowell or acts that center around his face or persona. His genuine fascination with magic acts and deep love for animals and acts involving them have fans loving the new version of Cowell, even if he isn’t as strict and harsh as he once was.