The America’s Got Talent one and only Judge Cuts episode airs next week (Tues July 28). Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, AGT producers had to drastically reconfigure the round. Typically, the round airs for 4 weeks, in which audition acts return to the stage to perform again for the judges. At the end of the show, 7 acts would move on to the live show.
But when Hollywood production shut down last March, America’s Got Talent had to come up with a creative way to carry on. The show ended auditions with remote performances. But for the Judge Cuts, Simon Cowell and his team didn’t want to to the usual zoom thing.
American Idol, The Voice led the way
AGT producer Jason Raff told People magazine that the team watched rival competition shows to see how they handled production under Covid-19 restrictions. “The Voice or [American] Idol, they did amazing things with what they could at the time. We did have a little more time than they had,” he said, explaining that AGT wanted to make the next rounds “more than just another Zoom show, which is what people in the industry were calling them. All these shows trying to survive on Zoom interviews.”
Production filmed Judge Cuts on a Drive-In Theater set
Production for the Judge Cuts episode happened in Simi Valley, California, on a drive-in theater set, with judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara watching contestants on a big screen and speaking to them live from their locations. Instead of seeing dozens of acts again, producers cut acts behind the scenes, only bringing back acts that were on the bubble.
“The drive-in idea is one that came organically because, at the time, you’re just reading about drive-ins,” AGT producer Sam Donnelly told People Magazine. “We liked the idea of being outside on a movie set location. Having the judges outside, socially distanced, but in a way that didn’t feel really weird. It felt like a good solution.”
AGT maintained stringent testing and social distancing procedures backstage
Backstage, AGT conducted regular testing of cast and crew. Producers created pods assigned to specific zones where everyone adhered to social distancing. When they needed to interact with anyone in another zone, they talked using headsets and phones. On stage, the judges and host Terry Crews wore face masks, except when they were talking on camera. Production kept contestants in respective pods.
“It’s really the health and safety of the crew and the contestants that has become our primary job at this point, along with producing a television series,” Raff said. “The testing is a huge component of it. The zones are a huge component of it. We all had our own workspace.”
One AGT contestant tested positive for coronavirus before filming resumed
The judges and crew tested negative for the coronavirus on set, but one contestant did test positive before production resumed. “We were extremely lucky that nobody that we know of became sick. We did have one contestant,” Donnelly said. Note: That contestant was likely comedian Michael Yo who shared his battle with Covid-19 here. He tested positive only days after his AGT audition.
The live shows begin after the Judge Cuts, and will start on Aug. 11. The round will feature 44 acts performing over four weeks of quarterfinals vs the typical schedule of 36 acts appearing over three weeks. “Because we’re being forced because of COVID to do less with the middle round, we felt that it would better to put more people through into the live shows that America could choose. We wanted to try and do as much as possible to give everybody as much of a chance as possible,” Donnelly explained.
Watch a preview of next week’s America’s Got Talent 2020 Judge Cuts Below