Part of Simon Cowell’s Got Talent franchise, America’s Got Talent is a reality TV series aired on NBC. It's now in its 12th season and 11th year of broadcast having first aired in June 2006 for the summer. The format is relatively simple: “A true celebration of creativity and talent, featuring a colorful array of singers, dancers, comedians, contortionists, impressionists, jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists and hopeful stars, all vying to win America's hearts and the $1 million prize” (NBC.com).
The prize, however, is not a $1m lump sum. The money is divided over 40 years and is paid to the winner as an annuity (money paid each year).
After each performance, a panel of judges casts a vote as to a performer’s suitability for the next round. One of the attractions of the show is its showcase of performers from around the country, both good and bad.
Another attraction is the judging panel. The original panel, back in 2006, was made up of David Hasselhoff, Brandy Norwood, and Piers Morgan. In the current season, the panel consists of Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum, Simon Cowell and Tyra Banks. According to the Futon Critic, “Cowell signed a contract to remain as a judge through 2019.
Here are 12 pictures of AGT’s choice of women judges from over the years.
12 Mel B
Mel B (AKA Scary Spice) was born in England in 1975. At 19, she successfully auditioned for a group that would later be known as The Spice Girls. The group’s first album, called “Spice,” was a huge financial success. Released on Virgin Records in 1995, the album “peaked at number one in more than 17 countries across the world and was certified multi-platinum in 27 countries,” according to Billboard magazine.
Mel B, whose real name is Melanie Janine Brown, earned an estimated $500-800 million between 1996 and 2000 before beginning a solo career. Brown joined AGT in 2013, replacing Sharon Osbourne. One year prior to this, she was a guest judge during the Manchester auditions for the ninth series of The X Factor UK, sitting in as a temporary replacement for Kelly Rowland. She later joined The X Factor UK for its eleventh series in 2014.
11 Tyra Banks
American actress and former model Tyra Banks sits on the judges’ panel, replacing American rapper Nick Cannon for the 12th season. Born in 1973, Wikipedia lists her biography as an “American television personality, producer, businesswoman, actress, author, former model and occasional singer.” She was the first woman to grace the cover of GQ, according to Live Civil, and she broke barriers as an African-American woman to have achieved such an honor.
She also modeled for American producers of women's premium lingerie brands Victoria’s Secret and Sports Illustrated. Banks first appeared on TV at the age of 20 when she played a part in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. As an actress, she's had considerable success in TV and film and starred in David McNally’s box office smash, Coyote Ugly. Most recent credits include being a host on the TV series FabLife (2015-2016) and playing Gigi in the comedy Black-ish.
10 Heidi Klum
Born in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany in 1973, Heidi Klum joins AGT for the 12th season. She joined the franchise in 2013 and was an instant hit with viewers. Like Tyra Banks, Klum made a career from modeling and is still much sought after by the likes of Spanish Vogue magazines, Elle, InStyle, Marie Claire, Glamour, and GQ. This picture is taken from Fashion Gone Rogue and shows her modeling her spring-summer 2016 line of namesake lingerie.
Klum was also a Victoria’s Secret Angel and since retiring from the shows has become something of a businesswoman. American business magazine Forbes noticed that since 2013, Klum has “partnered with New Balance and Amazon.com to launch a clothing line and signed a 20-episode deal to host a new show on Lifetime, called Seriously Funny Kids.” Klum became host and judge of Germany's Next Topmodel in 2008.
9 More Heidi Klum
Heidi Klum was born to a middle-class German family. At the age of 19, she was convinced by a friend to compete in a modeling contest called “Model 92”. She was voted the winner and was awarded a contract by Thomas Zeumer, CEO of Metropolitan Models New York. As she recalls, “My reward was a modeling contract, running over three years and guaranteeing a minimum sum of $300,000 dollars.” It was to be the start of an outstanding career, and she was yet to leave school. When she did, instead of carrying on her studies at university, she took the contract.
Klum also has 20 acting credits to her name, according to the movie database IMDb. Famously, she appeared in Spin City (1998-1999) and thereafter secured roles in such films as Zoolander (2001) and Ella Enchanted (2004). Her most recent TV series appearances include Parks and Recreation (2013) and Love Advent (2016).
8 Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox, now 33, was brought up within the AME Zion church. Her twin brother, M Lamar, is a NYC-based composer and singer. He also plays the part of the pre-transitioning Sophia in Orange Is the New Black. According to an article in Transgender Visibility, “Cox […] attempted suicide at the age of 11 when she noticed that she had developed feelings about her male classmates and had been bullied for several years for not acting the way someone assigned male at birth was supposed to act.”
She studied dance at Indiana University Bloomington before switching to acting classes at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City in 2002. Cox’s acting career has since taken off. Although known for her recurring role as Sophia Burset, she's also starred in over 20 films and TV series, her most recent including Lip Sync Battle, Doubt, and Freak Show.
7 Brandy Norwood
American singer-songwriter Brandy Rayana Norwood was with AGT for seasons 1 and 2. The first season was hosted by Regis Philbin; Norwood sat with judges David Hasselhoff and British journalist Piers Morgan.
Born in 1979, Norwood made her name as a singer. She began her career as a backing vocalist but was signed to Atlantic Records in 1993 as a rising star. She released her debut solo album, which was an instant hit and “certified quadruple Platinum in the US, selling six million copies worldwide” (Wikipedia, 2017).
Norwood has acted in various TV and film productions since. She was the eponymous star of UPN’s sitcom Moesha (1996-2001) and thereafter gained a string of credits in TV series such as American Dreams (2004) and The Game (2012-2015). Her most recent film role was as Avatia in Bille Woodruffs The Perfect Match (2016).
6 More Tyra Banks
As a former model herself, it seemed perfectly natural for Tyra Banks to produce and present a show about modeling. In 2003, the long-running reality television series America's Next Top Model was born and ran for two years before being canceled. A return of the show included singer Rita Ora as host before Banks took to the stage once more. Banks has produced various other shows including Stylista (2008) and Life-Size 2 (a TV show in pre-production).
Banks’s entrepreneurial skills also include the production of her own talk show for which she received two Daytime Emmy awards in the category for 'Outstanding Talk Show / Informative'. In addition, back in 2010, she wrote and published a young-adult book called Modelland, which topped The New York Times Best Seller list in 2011.
5 More Mel B
Mel B was born in the city of Leeds in England. Her father is from the Caribbean island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Both her mother and her father encouraged Brown to follow her dreams. This she did when she took up a place at Intake High School, Leeds to study performing arts. After leaving, she found herself well positioned to enter the entertainment industry.
Brown began singing with a group known as Touch before auditioning for The Spice Girls in 1994. Between 2005 and 2009, Brown released a solo album, which was slammed by critics. AllMusic stated the album was “one of the worst pop albums of the decade.” Brown’s output after this dropped significantly. Announcing her return to a solo career in 2012, Brown promptly released a studio album under EMI Australia, including the single “For Once in my Life.”
4 More Brandy Norwood
Brandy Norwood was born in Mississippi in 1979 to Willie Norwood -- a choir director and former gospel singer -- and Sonja, his wife. According to MTV news, Norwood is “the older sister of entertainer Ray J, as well as a cousin of rapper Snoop Dogg and WWE wrestler Sasha Banks.” She started singing with a local gospel choir and performed her first solo at the age of two. Two years later, after relocating with her family, Norwood was schooled at the Hollywood High Performing Arts Center.
A fan of Whitney Houston, Norwood had every intention of becoming a singer even at such a young age. However, her schooling was not as productive as her parents thought it would be, and the teachers were not supportive in her efforts to attend auditions, according to People Magazine. Undeterred, Norwood continued to forge ahead out of school time with auditions and talent shows.
3 Even More Mel B
Mel B was known to have been dating Icelandic businessman Fjölnir Thorgeirsson between 1996 and 1997 while with the Spice Girls. On tour, the following year, Brown dated dancer Jimmy Gulzar; they were engaged in 1998 and finally married at the end of the year. In 1999, their daughter Phoenix Chi Gulzar was born, but the following year, Brown filed for divorce. Following this, Brown won custody of their daughter, leaving Gulzar devastated.
Speaking to the Mail Online only this year, Gulzar recalls the split vividly: “Mel’s a narcissist. She’s always tried to put a huge wall between my child and I. But I stood there like a rock to be there for my child. I just think she finds herself more important than her kids. She is famous and the only thing you have in your mind is, 'I need to be successful.' That drive is unstoppable.”
2 And A LOT More From Heidi Klum
Heidi Klum has had a colorful personal life. In 1997, she married celebrity hairstylist Ric Pipino, but they divorced five years later. Shortly after that, Klum entered a relationship with Flavio Briatore, the Italian managing director of Renault's Formula One team. After falling pregnant with his child, Klum split from Briatore and began dating singer-songwriter Seal. The couple were married in 2005 but separated in 2012 for reasons unknown. Since 2014, Klum has been dating independent art curator Vito Schnabel, according to US Magazine.
Klum has also done her fair share of philanthropic work. Back in 2011, she led Walk for Kids. “Supermodel and TV host Heidi Klum, actress and author Jamie Lee Curtis and actress Melanie Griffith joined hospital patients and supporters for the evening’s events, which helped raise more than $1 million in support of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” reported the Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles.
1 Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox was assigned a male gender when she born in 1984. According to an interview with Metro Weekly, she graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, Alabama at the age of 20 before training as a dancer. In 2015, Cox earned a name for herself and the LGBT community when she became the first transgender person to have a wax figure of herself at Madame Tussauds in London.
She appears as a guest judge on AGT but Cox is best known for her role in Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black, where she plays Sophia Burset. Through this, she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category, according to Time Magazine in 2015. One year prior to this, Cox also became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time (Time, 2014).
Sources: en.wikipedia.org, web.archive.org, nbc.com, dailymail.co.uk