Howard Stern on His 'Leap of Faith' to 'America's Got Talent'

Shock jock opens up about his new gig: 'It's true vaudeville"

Howard Stern
Dario Cantatore/Getty Images
Howard Stern attends the "America's Got Talent" Press Conference in New York City.
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Though his judging experience is limited to decades of radio commentary on breast size and shape, Howard Stern is promising substance over shtick when he joins fellow judges Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel for Monday night's season seven premiere of NBC's America's Got Talent. Already, groups like the Parents Television Council have condemned Stern's addition to the lineup.

"Hopefully America will like this and put everybody's fears to rest," Stern told reporters at a press conference yesterday, entering Manhattan's Friars Club as "Hail to the Chief" played over a loudspeaker. "I'm not a beginner. I'm an elder statesman now."

The 58-year-old Stern explained that he didn't take the job to alienate the show's audience of 15 million viewers. "I just love the show," he said, adding that he wants to mentor rather than pander to America's next big act.

Stern hasn't appeared this happy with his former employer since 1985, when he was fired from WNBC's radio morning show for indecency. "It wasn't, 'I have to work for NBC.' NBC happened to have America's Got Talent," Stern told Rolling Stone during the conference, later adding, "I think Piers [Morgan] is a hard act to replace." The network has invested heavily in Stern, moving the show's studio and crew from Los Angeles to New York City, where Stern lives. (The show tapes in nearby Newark, New Jersey.)

"It's true vaudeville. I'm sitting there at one of these auditions, a guy comes out, his act is he gets kicked in the nuts," Stern said. "I said to the guy, 'Look, I'm gonna put you through to the next round. You're fabulous.'" Stern said the contestant, a father of three, encouraged host Nick Cannon to drop a bowling ball on his groin.

Come Monday, more people will be watching Howard Stern on TV than ever before, many of whom are too young to remember characters like Fartman and Baba Booey. Primetime audiences haven't exactly been kind to Stern over the years, either – his on-air television efforts include several short-lived attempts to dominate Saturday primetime programming during the Nineties. For a time, though, his numbers beat out NBC's Saturday Night Live locally.

When asked whether his latest venture signals an eventual departure from radio, Stern told Rolling Stone that his Sirius XM Radio contract runs through 2015. (A judge recently dismissed Stern's $300 million lawsuit against his employer for back compensation, which he is appealing.)

"I've been slowing down with my radio career, and I've been thinking that in three-and-a-half years I'd retire, but I keep saying that and I keep re-signing," Stern said. "I clearly don't know what I'm talking about."

Should NBC trust Stern to keep it clean at all times during his new show's live tapings? "Of course not," Reed Hundt, FCC chairman from 1993 to 1997, tells Rolling Stone. "'Weird' would be a polite term for Stern, but there's no question that whatever he is, he's a pro at it."

"I took a leap of faith," Stern said. "That's the only reason I did it: I thought it would be fun. And I thought I might be good at it. Because I sit at home watching this thing, and I'm doing commentary to the wall."

As for Monday's premiere, Stern says he will watch it with his wife from their bedroom, where "she will receive wonderful lovemaking" following the show.

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