America's Got Talent has a new judge to fill the departing Howard Stern's seat on the NBC reality competition: the iconic Simon Cowell.
Cowell, an executive producer and creator of the top-rated summer series, will serve as a judge during next summer's Season 11. He announced the news Thursday on NBC's Today Show.
Englishman Cowell, a music producer who became a huge star in the United States as an original judge on the Fox mega-hit, American Idol, hasn't been a judge on American TV since low-rated The X Factor ended its run on Fox in 2013.
"About five or six years ago, I was offered the chance to be on the show and, at the time, I couldn't do it. But I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't able to," Cowell tells USA TODAY. "For the years (Howard) was on the show, he did a great job. I think at the point we really knew Howard wasn't going to come back, we then had serious conversations with NBC. I thought, 'I think this is the right time.' So, I'm excited about it."
Cowell expects the show to depart New York, where it has been based in recent seasons to accommodate radio host Stern, and return to Los Angeles. "I always thought of this as a Hollywood type of show," he says.
Cowell praises the other judges – Mel B, Heid Klum and Howie Mandel – but says it's too early to say the final makeup of next year's show. Nick Cannon is host.
"They might decide since I've come back, they'll run for the hills," he jokes. "I have no idea. I know them all. I think they've done a great job. … I thought we'd let the dust settle and then we'll meet everyone who's on the show and then we'll make some decisions."
Cowell, who has signed on for another season as a judge on his United Kingdom shows, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, has found and launched stars through the shows he's created, including One Direction, Fifth Harmony and Susan Boyle.
On America's Got Talent, "I would love to be able to bring in better singers and groups and give them the confidence that if they come on the show. It's a great platform because we have a good history of breaking music acts from the British show and the other shows around the world," he says. "But I'm just as excited to try and find the next David Copperfield or great comedian or great dance act or great animal act. You go in with your eyes wide open on this show."
In the end, he says it's not about the judges. "At the end of the day, it always comes back to the talent. You've got to find stars."
Asked whether American viewers should expect a mellower version of the outspoken, sometimes caustic English judge who helped rocket Idol to the ratings stratosphere, Cowell says: "I like to think that I'm a positive judge because I want to find someone good, but I can't lie to people when they're useless. I would never do that, on or off camera."