Foster ‘mean judge’ in AGT

Elvie Matias - The Philippine Star

SINGAPORE — David Foster is clearly the leader of the panel of judges carefully handpicked for the maiden offering of AXN’s Asia’s Got Talent (AGT), the 63rd version of the world-famous reality talent show premiering on March 12 across the region. There are 15 countries participating in the competition that aims to discover the next Asian superstar.

He is joined by the other celebrity judges in the panel who all enjoy equal superstar status — Indonesian rock icon Anggun, Taiwanese pop-superstar Van Ness Wu and UK pop sensation and Spice Girls member Melanie C. The more interesting thing is that, the other three only said yes to be part of the show after confirming that Foster will indeed be sitting as a judge.

Taking the compliment in stride, David quipped, “Oh, that’s what they made them say yes? Really? Then I should ask for more money,” and he gave a knowing smile. He said, “I have been coming to Asia for 25 years now. Being part of Asia’s Got Talent is a natural extension of what I do. I am excited to help find that true star from among the two billion people in Asia.”

The reputation is richly deserved. Foster was the brilliant talent that discovered and launched some of the greatest music careers including Michael Bublé, Josh Groban and Celine Dion. He has created hit songs and award-winning platinum and gold albums for Earth, Wind & Fire, Natalie Cole, Michael Bolton, Seal, Chaka Khan, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Chicago, Hall & Oates, Brandy, ‘N Sync, Boz Scaggs and Gloria Estefan; propelled classical singers like Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban into mainstream popularity; as well as created soundtracks for hit films like The Bodyguard, Urban Cowboy and St. Elmo’s Fire.

In 2008 and 2011, David performed and hosted his very own, star-studded Foster & Friends concerts in Las Vegas to celebrate the music from his career and toured Asia annually from 2010 to 2012. David has won 16 Grammy Awards from 47 nominations, and is the chairman of Verve Music Group.

But the thing that sticks when his performance at the Asia’s Got Talent as a judge is brought to fore, is his ability to be straightforward with the contestants, especially the undeserving ones. He looked comfortable being the “mean judge” and even finds humor in Van Ness’ monicker for him as the “dream crusher.”

Evidently, all four judges have managed to gel together as a team and bonded quite well as they strike a fun, comfortable atmosphere of mutual respect for one another when they faced the press during the launch held at the Mastercard Theater at the Marina Bay Sands complex.

As he promises an incredible show ahead of them, David especially cited the hard work and excellent job that hosts Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, both Philippine-based artists, have put into it. “These guys were on for 12 hours straight at any given time. They were there all the time and they truly did an amazing job,” he said.

We were privileged to be given the chance to sit with David for an interview during the launch. Here are excerpts from the interview.

You were given the monicker “dream crusher” by Van Ness. How do you feel being described as a mean judge?

“I’m trying to keep reminding myself of the Asian culture. There has to be some leeway. You can’t just be so upfront, especially to the older generation. I try to be indirect but if someone is really bad, I mean there’s no point. In the case of some singers, their family has told them their whole life that they are great. So they come right out of their bedroom into the show. And they are not great. And there’s a lot of difference between being drunk in a karaoke bar in front of your friends and be faced with the harsh reality of a real microphone on a real stage.”

Are you looking for the Asian element in each of the talent who auditions in the show?

“What we discovered is that some of the beautiful acts really mix the cultures. They took their own culture and mixed it with the Western world. Having said that, some worked out very well but there are some that did a complete disservice to their country.” 

Do you think you can find someone from this contest that you can mentor and bring to stardom the same way you did for Josh Groban, Celine Dion or Michael Bublé?

“Yes, it’s very possible. But remember, we don’t get to decide who gets to stay. It’s the audience at home that picks the winner. We are gonna narrow it down to 24. Our opinions count, but we don’t vote. Unless we X somebody from this point on we don’t have a whole lot of liberty. We may have influence but we don’t have the final say in this. And yeah, I’d love to find a great singer here. If I find a great singer I will be all over that person. But we looked it up. Last season of America’s Got Talent, a Japanese dancer won, not even a singer won. Last year, a magician won. So, there hasn’t been a singer in a few years.”

Were there some out-of-the-ordinary auditions that you witnessed?

“Well, there was one with the snake that is not watchable. There have been a lot of moments where we cover our eyes and couldn’t watch. There were some transgender situations, if I can say that, that fooled me. I don’t say that with any disrespect. Over all, we can say that there were a lot of pleasant surprises and unpleasant surprises.”

How do you know when a contestant has the ‘it’ factor?

“I could only describe it like how I described it before. Like when I watched Rihanna walk into a room. I just couldn’t believe the electricity in the room. She made other stars look at her. Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry and Drake were all in the room. She made them look at her just by walking in the room. It’s unbelievable. You can’t describe it. It is a learned skill by the way. Like Katy Perry, she probably wasn’t that charismatic when she was 11 years old. You hone your skills. I remember some people have said that I am charismatic. I remember the first time I played St. Elmo’s Fire on stage many, many years ago. I went out and I was just so petrified. It was 30 years ago and I was petrified in front of an audience. But when I started to play the song and they started clapping. And all of a sudden, I start feeling the thing. And then it starts getting there.” 

Is there a major difference between Asian performer and Western performer?

“No. Other than the cultural acts that we have seen, there’s really not much. Whatever talent show you’re watching, the contestants tend to be on their best behavior when they are being interviewed. They don’t dare ruffle your feathers. Asians may be a little shy when they speak but not when they perform. Honestly, after the second day, all countries, races, colors, they disappear. It was all just performance. We were just judging talents. It was a beautiful thing.”

Did you encounter a lot of Filipino talents in the show? How were they?

“Yes I did.”

Is Asia’s Got Talent seeking to find a real artist that is commercially viable or is entertainment the highest priority?

“They probably want to entertain you first and find the superstar would be their second goal. I think I would probably put it that way, too. When I watch  America’s Got Talent and I watch it all the time, I just love the entertainment. I don’t care whether they find a star or not. This year was a magician, last year was a dancer, I don’t care. I just love the show. I love the diversity. I love Howard Stern, I love the way he serves it straightforward. It’s there to entertain and I think that will be their priority. But we’re gonna find the star. Maybe not this season, maybe next. We’ll see.”

What would you tell someone who will tell you that you are wrong about your opinion of one talent?

“I don’t mind being challenged. Van Ness challenged me one time. Anggun challenged me once. Yeah, it was fine. It created a little drama on stage. I said, ‘Are you watching the same thing I’m watching? There’s no talent. There was one person, or act, that I said, ‘The show is called Asia’s Got Talent, not just Asia.’ Is that too harsh?”

Do you sometimes regret giving bad feedback to the contestants?

“I dealt with that as my honest opinion always. I have regretted two contestants out of the hundreds. But other than that, that’s that. There is no free lunch. People don’t get to where they are just by hanging out. We all got our jobs by working hard for it.”  

While sitting on the judges’ seat, is there still something about yourself that you discovered?

“That I don’t have much patience, but I certainly knew that about myself. Yes, I discovered I can distinguish between a good dancer and a bad dancer. That’s due in large part by Van Ness. We talked about it at length and he showed me that when they do a certain thing, it has to be clean and he showed me how. And I think it was important because I didn’t want to give a bad vote to someone who is good or a good vote to someone who is bad. I learned really quickly about dance and Van Ness is an amazing dancer. Just watching as an observer you don’t really know the difference, but when you really look, there is something. I feel like more of an expert now really.”

(Asia’s Got Talent is the world’s first-ever pan-regional edition of the global hit Got Talent format, billed as the biggest talent competition in the world and Guinness World Record’s most successful reality TV format in 2014. AGT will feature some of the region’s most incredible performing artists as they compete to take home the coveted winning title, a whopping $100,000 and a contract to perform at the Marina Bay Sands. The hit format is co-owned by FremantleMedia and Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment.)

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