Ventriloquist Darci Lynne (Credit: Trae Patton/NBC)

‘America’s Got Talent’ Rides Robust Ratings Into Finale

Simon Cowell says ventriloquist Darci Lynne is a strong bet to win, and don’t rule out golden-buzzered Mandy Harvey

The season finale of America’s Got Talent goes down Sept. 20, and it’s been a pretty memorable season 12 for the NBC series. AGT is always a summer staple, but the ratings are particularly strong this year, up 14% in total viewers (averaging 15.8 million) and 10% in those 18-49 in live plus seven day ratings.

Exec producer Simon Cowell took on a judge’s role for season 11, replacing Howard Stern. Bob Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment chairman, describes that move as “a nice shot in the arm” for AGT.

Sam Donnelly, also an executive producer, mentions “great chemistry” on the judge’s panel, which also includes Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel. She also singled out strong production values and an increased focus on good storytelling. It seems every contestant had a wholly compelling back story, such as singer Kechi, who survived a plane crash in 2005 that killed 107 out of 109 passengers, Mandy Harvey, a deaf singer, and teen vocalist Evie Clair, who was dealing with her gravely ill father. (He recently died.)

The ratings gain may also be attributable to viewers, tired of all the political in-fighting going on in the nation, craving the feel-good nature of America’s Got Talent. “The most successful stuff on NBC has an inherent sense of positiveness,” says Greenblatt. “The country is in a place where positive is a good thing these days.”

Produced by Syco Entertainment and FremantleMedia, America’s Got Talent lost host Nick Cannon in February after Cannon made a racially charged joke about NBC. Tyra Banks took over the role, and showed a natural rapport with the singers, dancers and magicians. “Every week she gets better and better,” says Donnelly. “She feels right at home with the contestants.”

Donnelly says last year’s champion, Grace Vanderwaal, who was just 12 when she won, inspired a wave of gifted singer-songwriters to give America’s Got Talent a thought. “She encouraged other people to demonstrate their talent,” says Donnelly.

So who’s gonna win this year? Cowell says “smart money” is on ventriloquist Darci Lynne, and also voiced support for Mandy Harvey, who he gave the golden buzzer treatment to. (Each judge gives out a single golden buzzer, which automatically sends the contestant to the next round.) Donnelly also singled out comedian Preacher Lawson and dog trainer Sara Carson, and her pooch Hero. “Who doesn’t love a dog act?” she says. 

Others still alive in the final include singer/guitarist Chase Goehring, dance act Diavolo and 10-year-old singer Angelica Hale. Cowell says it’s a pretty open field this season. “Maybe it will play down to what happens on the night,” he tells B&C. “And that’s probably the way it should be.”