The 12 Greatest Talent Competition Judges of All-Time


Simon Cowell joins AGT Season 11

Simon Cowell joins Howie, Heidi, Mel B & Nick for “America’s Got Talent’s” eleventh season (Logo and Photo property of NBC & SYCO Entertainment)

By: Jacob Elyachar,

(Article originally was written: April 6, 2016; Updated on May 29, 2016)

Starting this Tuesday, America’s Got Talent creator Simon Cowell will join Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Mel B at the AGT judges table for the NBC talent competition’s eleventh season!

In honor of Mr. Cowell’s return of judging talent on American television,  Jake’s Take countdowns the 12 men and women who have guided or critiqued talent on numerous competition shows over the past 14 years and also rounds out their most significant finds while they were on their respective shows.


(Photo property of NBC & Syco Entertainment)

(Photo property of NBC & Syco Entertainment)

12-Mel B (America’s Got Talent, The Voice Kids Australia, X Factor Australia & X Factor UK)

Scary Spice kicks off our countdown at number 12.  She is the only person on this list that has judged talent on three different continents. Mel B started her judging career after mentoring the X Factor Australia Top Five in 2010. She had so much fun mentoring that when the show was looking for a guide, they hired her to join Ronan Keating, Guy Sebastian and fellow new judge Natalie Bassingthwaighte for two seasons. Mel B’s spicy and honest critiques may have polarized the audience, but appeased international viewers.  After that brief stint with X Factor Australia, Mel B continued to conquer the world as a judge on both America’s Got Talent and the X Factor UK.

Mel B’s discoveries: Kenichi Ebina, Andrea Faustini, Paul Akister & Sharon Irving


(Photo property of ABC & BBC Worldwide)

(Photo property of ABC & BBC Worldwide)

11-Bruno Tonioli (Dancing with the Stars & Strictly Come Dancing)

Our favorite ballroom judge comes in at number 11. The fiery Italian stallion has been at the Dancing with the Stars franchise since its humble beginnings in 2004.  Since the moment he opened up his mouth, the veteran choreographer’s critiques featured flamboyant wordplay that made audiences laugh or squirm and helped several stars reach both the UK and US finals.

Here are Bruno’s best bits from “Strictly Come Dancing” & “Dancing with the Stars


(Photo property of FOX & Entertainment Tonight)

(Photo property of FOX & Entertainment Tonight)

10-Jennifer Lopez (American Idol)

Before Mariah, Britney, Kelly Rowland, Christina, Shakira and Gwen took their seats as judges or coaches at their respectful shows; there was one music superstar that wrote the modern rulebook on judging the next generation of superstars: Jennifer Lopez. For five seasons, the multi-talented entertainer has laughed, cried and gave standing ovations all throughout her Idol run. Without Jennifer Lopez, the post-Saula era of the FOX singing competition would be boring!

Jennifer’s discoveries: Scotty McCreery, Haley Reinhart, Jessica Sanchez, Caleb Johnson & Clark Beckham


Howard Stern leaves AGT

(Photo property of NBC, SYCO TV & FremantleMedia North America)

9-Howard Stern (America’s Got Talent)

Hey now, America’s judge comes in at number nine in this countdown! Several fans and national organizations around the country were skeptical about the Shock Jock joining the NBC summer juggernaut back in 2012. However, the King of All Media proved critics wrong as he brought a new and wild energy to the show when AGT relocated to the Big Apple for four seasons. Howard’s honesty and comments helped the audience weed out the pretenders from the superstars. Howard’s presence will be missed this season, and I am glad that he came to the show for those four years.

Howard’s discoveries: Andrew de Leon, Taylor Williamson, Forte Tenors, Emily West & Freckled Sky


(Photo property of FOX)

(Photo property of FOX)


8-Mary Murphy (So You Think You Can Dance)

The Queen of Scream and the Hot Tamale Train conductor pops in at number eight! For ten seasons, Mary Murphy introduced us to some of the best dancers in both the millennial and digital generations. Her on-point critiques not only educated Americans on ballroom and contemporary genres, but we loved Mary making Nigel squirm in his seat! Unfortunately, the show has not been the same without her since FOX did not renew her contract.

Mary’s discoveries: Nick Lazzarini, Travis Wall, Allison Holker-Boss, Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Chelsie Hightower, Ryan & Ashleigh Di Lello, Melanie Moore & Ricky Ubeda


Christina Aguilera returns to The Voice

(Photo property of NBC & UnitedArtists Media Group)

7-Christina Aguilera (The Voice USA)

The Queen of The Voice is probably one of the best female coaches in the international Voice franchise! Every season, she takes artists under her wings and throughout their journey, these artists’ vocal abilities improved hundredfold, and they have the confidence to continue their journeys in the music industry. Despite upsetting fans with her harsh treatment of several contestants (Tony Lucca, Tony Vincent & Melanie Martinez), Xtina apologizes to them through acts such as singing with hopefuls at the end of their Blind Audition. Last week, Christina became the first female coach to win The Voice USA!

Xtina’s discoveries: Beverly McClellan, Frenchie Davis, Chris Mann, Jacquie Lee, Will Champlin, Matthew Schuler, India Carney, Kimberly Nichole & Alisan Porter


 (Photo property of NBC & United Artists Media Group)

(Photo property of NBC & United Artists Media Group)

6-Blake Shelton (The Voice USA)

If Xtina is the Queen of NBC’s singing competition, then Blake Shelton is the King of the NBC singing competition.  When The Voice premiered in 2011, critics were scratching their heads when they heard that this Oklahoma country singer would be joining Adam Levine, CeeLo Green and the incomparable Christina Aguilera in coaching the next generation. Fast forward five years later, Mr. Shelton is a four-time champion mentor and has helped a good majority of his Team Blake family build their careers in the entertainment industry. When Blake decides to leave the show, The Voice will never be the same!

Blake’s discoveries: Dia Frampton, Gwen Sebastian, Cassadee Pope, the Swon Brothers, Cole Vosbury, Sisaundra Lewis, Craig Wayne Boyd & Meghan Linsey


Sharon Osbourne AGT

(Photo property of NBC’s Stephen Brashear)

5-Sharon Osbourne (America’s Got Talent & The X Factor UK)

The music manager and talk show host rounds out the Top Five of our countdown! As the founding mother of The X Factor UK and forever America’s Got Talent’s Queen of Hearts, Sharon Osbourne has captured the hearts of millions in both the United Kingdom and United States through her keen eye on talent and being the only woman who can get away with throwing water at Simon Cowell, going toe-to-toe with Piers Morgan or having laugh-offs with BFF Louis Walsh. But, if you are an act or talent that can change the entertainment industry…then the best person to have at your side is Mrs. O!

Sharon’s discoveries: Eli Mattson, Nuttin’ But Stringz, Barbara Padilla, Prince Poppycock,  Olate Dogs, Tom Cotter & Sam Bailey


Piers Morgan returns to AGT

(Photo property of NBC & SYCO TV)


4-Piers Morgan (America’s Got Talent & Britain’s Got Talent)

My all-time favorite America’s Got Talent judge is Piers Morgan! While he polarized both AGT and Britain’s Got Talent audiences throughout the six years he was on the show and the four series he was on the UK series by buzzing people left and right, Piers’ brutally honest critiques kept the joke acts at the sidelines, while helping both the American and British public pick out superstars.

Piers’ discoveries: Terry Fator, Jackie Evancho, Fighting Gravity, Team iLuminate, Daniel Joseph Baker, Siro-A & Susan Boyle


(Photo property of 19 Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America & FOX)

(Photo property of 19 Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America & FOX)

3-Randy Jackson (American Idol)

Yo! Yo! Dawg! The longest running American Idol judge comes in at number three in our countdown. For 12 seasons, record producer and music manager Randy Jackson helped a plethora of judges find the best talent that the US had to offer. From laughing with Paula and Simon and hanging out with Steven and J.Lo to being the voice of sanity during the season of dueling divas, Randy’s comments about pitch and contestants being “in it to win it” have become a part of our pop culture rolodex.

Randy’s discoveries: Justin Guarini, Jennifer Hudson, Bo Bice, Casey Abrams, Pia Toscano,  Joshua Ledet & Candice Glover


(Photo property of FOX & Syco Entertainment)

(Photo property of FOX & Syco Entertainment)

2-Paula Abdul (American Idol, Live to Dance, So You Think You Can Dance Australia, So You Think You Can Dance USA & X Factor USA)

To me, Paula Abdul is the one of the best Reality TV competition judges of all-time! For her eight-year tenure on Idol, her one season on X Factor USA and multiple stints on So You Think You Can Dance, contestants knew that she was the judge that had their backs. Her nurturing personality, arguments with Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, LA Reid and Nigel Lythgoe and passion for performance always made for fantastic television.

Paula’s discoveries: Clay Aiken, Elliott Yamin, Melinda DooLittle, David Archuleta, Adam Lambert, Rachel Crow, LeRoy Bell, Gaby Diaz & Jaja Vankova


Simon Cowell joins AGT

(Photo and graphic property of NBC)

1-Simon Cowell (America’s Got Talent, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor UK & The X Factor USA)

Was there any doubt that Simon Cowell would take the top spot in this countdown? The music mogul and media icon has earned his place in pop culture and entertainment history for his brutal honesty, but at times humbleness, warmth and compassion towards the next generation of entertainers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. As he begins the next chapters of America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor UK, I strongly believe he is going to find the next big thing that is going to start a global conversation on social media.

Simon’s discoveries: Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Paul Potts, Jonathan & Charlotte, Collabro, Leona Lewis, Olly Murs, One Direction, Fifth Harmony, Alex & Sierra & Jeffrey Adam Gutt

Who are your favorite judges/coaches from performance based reality TV shows?

I do not own any of the clips that are featured in this article. They belong to the following broadcast companies: American Broadcasting Company, BBC, FOX, iTV, NBC & Seven Network.


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