Simon Cowell is back in his America's Got Talent chair for Season 16, making a quick comeback after his scary bike accident in August 2020. Cowell was missing from the last several episodes of Season 15 after he was hospitalized due to a serious back injury, but the first photo from the new season confirms he is back. NBC previously announced that Season 16 will start on Tuesday, June 1 at 8 p.m. ET.
In addition to Cowell's return, the rest of the judge's panel from Season 15 is back. Former Modern Family star Sofia Vergara will be a judge for the second time, while comedian Howie Mandel is back for his 12th season. Supermodel Heidi Klum will be back for her eighth season. Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews will be back to host for the third time. Crews also joined Klum, Cowell, and Mandel for the two seasons of America's Got Talent: The Champions.
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"It's so exciting to be back, honestly it's so exciting to be anywhere. It's so exciting just to be out of the house," Mandel told PEOPLE. The magazine also published a photo of the four judges and Crews on the set. Auditions for the show started on Sunday in Pasadena with a limited audience due to coronavirus guidelines. Vergara also posted two photos from filming on Sunday, including a fun backstage selfie with Klum behind her. "We r readyyyyy," Vergara wrote.
Hopefully, for NBC and all involved Season 16 will run much smoother than Season 15 did. The season was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the first episode not airing until May 26. While filming the auditions, Klum fell ill, and Vergara's Modern Family co-star Eric Stonestreet was picked to judge the auditions Klum missed. Klum later tested negative for the coronavirus.
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When Season 15 moved to the live episodes, America's Got Talent became one of the first shows to have to decide how filming could happen during the pandemic. Instead of being filmed at an indoor venue, the show moved to an outdoor set in Simi Valley, California, dressed to look like a drive-by theater. There was frequent testing, and everyone followed social distancing guidelines. The process was running smoothly until Cowell broke his back after an electric bike accident at his Malibu home. He needed surgery that lasted five hours, and metal rods were inserted in his back. Kelly Clarkson and Kenan Thompson filled in during the first two episodes Cowell missed, but the show continued on with just Vergara, Klum, and Mandel as judges for the last four weeks.
Last month, Cowell told PEOPLE that he is feeling better than ever after the surgery. "I've never been in this situation in my life where you literally can't move. The pain was off the charts," he said. "But you've got to stay positive… I made a promise to myself I'd be fitter than I was before I had the accident. Sure enough, that's what happened."