'America's Got Talent' Judge Howie Mandel 'More Honest' With Contestants Than Ever Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Howie Mandel isn't mincing words anymore when it comes to telling the performers on America's Got Talent exactly what he thinks. The longtime judge, who joined the NBC talent show in Season 5, shared with PopCulture in a press call how his judging style has changed over the years ahead of the Tuesday, June 1 premiere of America's Got Talent's Season 16, revealing the COVID-19 pandemic has him more "unedited" and "honest" than ever.

"Being able to settle in comfortably with being totally honest, totally without any thought of what the audience at home is going to think of me ... that took a long time to do," the comedian shared of his years on the show. "I mean there were [acts] at the beginning when I started that I hated, that I just didn't like, I don't want to see it, and for the life of me I would have never told you or kind of expressed it like that because I was afraid that the audience at home would turn on me."

As he continued behind the judging panel, Mandel realized people at home hopefully would recognize he "would never want to hurt anybody's feelings or offend anybody," but that by giving his unvarnished opinion, he was doing the performers "a service" that would better their act. "And so I have become more honest and more unedited than I have ever been, and I'm comfortable with that," he shared. "I just think I'm unedited and more honest, and comfortable being honest and saying what I think than I have ever been."

Mandel was feeling "especially" candid this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have this shared experience of a world pandemic, of this darkness, of everything that's going on in the news," he explained. "I just think we have to celebrate humanity and being ourselves and honesty and being just real ... I think I'm more honest than I've ever been."

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Bringing America's Got Talent back to filming in front of a live audience has been the "light at the end of the tunnel" for Mandel and his fellow judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum and Sofia Vergara, as well as the performers. "There's another level that has never really existed in all my years at AGT," Mandel teased, saying that while he continues to think he's seen everything performers could have to bring, he "realized I ain't seen nothin' yet." America's Got Talent returns with a brand new season Tuesday, June 1 at 8 p.m. on NBC.