The golden buzzer – America’s Got Talent’s most controversial production ploy

The golden buzzer – America’s Got Talent’s most controversial production ploy

America’s Got Talent keeps handing out golden buzzers, and the competition has become more unfair than many people realise.

Now that the 18th season of America’s Got Talent (AGT) has just wrapped up its nail-biting finale episode, it might be time to re-evaluate some of the franchise’s longstanding tropes.

The golden buzzer was introduced to AGT’s format in its tenth season, as a way for the judges to ensure that their favorite acts had a ‘golden’ ticket to the Live Shows.

The number of golden buzzers handed out in season 18

And while no viewer is naïve enough to believe that the show is completely impartial and fair, the recent season 18 additions prove that AGT has now completely abandoned any pretense that the auditions and qualifier rounds actually mean anything.

With these recent changes, a total of seven golden buzzers can now be handed out in every season of the show, distributed as follows:

  • One golden buzzer for an act of each of the judges’ choosing (with Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara, this brings the total golden buzzers in this category to four)
  • One golden buzzer from the show’s host, Terry Crews
  • One Group Golden Buzzer, which the judges and Terry decide on collectively
  • One Extra Golden Buzzer, which is awarded to one lucky act with the help of the crowd

And since this season also handled the Judges Cuts rounds off-screen, it almost felt like none of the other acts had a chance to prove themselves. The final ultimately ended up consisting of 5 out of 10 golden buzzer acts.

A look back at the golden buzzer winners

To be fair, golden buzzer acts have always had a fairly good track-record on the show in the past, with six of the last eight seasons’ winners starting out as golden buzzer acts, as shown below:

No. AGT season Act
1. Season 10 Paul Zerdin
2. Season 11 Grace VanderWaal
3. Season 12 Darci Lynne
4. Season 14 Kodi Lee
5. Season 15 Brandon Leake
6. Season 17 Mayyas

It is certainly debatable whether these acts received these golden buzzers because they set themselves apart as winning acts from the very beginning or not.

But it is also important to remember that the big shebang around receiving the golden buzzer (and being touted as a certain judge’s favorite for the rest of the competition) certainly gives these acts a leg up when the live voting starts.

The golden buzzer track record

Though AGT has always been honest about the fact that the golden buzzers are meant to help acts to advance through the competition, it is disheartening to see just how many of the AGT finals were basically already determined in the audition stages (save for a few Judges Cuts golden buzzers through the years):

AGT Golden buzzer acts in the final
Season 10 4 out of 10 finalists
Season 11 5 out of 10 finalists
Season 12 5 out of 10 finalists
Season 13 3 out of 10 finalists
Season 14 6 out of 10 finalists
Season 15 4 out of 10 finalists
Season 16 5 out of 10 finalists
Season 17 4 out of 10 finalists
Season 18 5 out of 10 finalists

Why the Judges Cuts being cuts benefits the golden buzzer acts

There is nothing quite like the fan-fare involved in an AGT golden buzzer moment.

And while the golden confetti and tears of joy are usually condensed into a few short minutes, the clips of the moment continue to circulate online, during ad-breaks, and in the video segments announcing the acts once they get to the Live Shows.

When you compare the kind of emotional connection to an act that had only a few seconds to try and forge this same bond with voters during their qualifying round, it becomes obvious just how unfair this whole situation actually is.

High hopes for the AGT season 19 golden buzzer

At this point, the whole golden buzzer schtick has not only lost its novelty, but it may just be a matter of time before AGT introduces three more golden buzzers, which ultimately cement the finalists within the first few minutes of the show.

However, with NBC announcing that AGT season 19 (titled America's Got Talent: Fantasy League) will appear on our screens early in 2024, there is still time for the show to figure it all out.

Perhaps the best option is to reduce the golden buzzers down to just one act per season, or even to leave it in the hands of the fans (much like the Instant Save). But either way, something undoubtedly needs to change.