It's Howard, not Howie. And starting tonight, he's back, after three weeks of Olympics. Let the real games begin.
It's Howard, not Howie. And starting tonight, he's back, after three weeks of Olympics. Let the real games begin. (NBC)

After a three-week hiatus during the Olympic games, or as I like to call them, "Planet Earth's Got Talent," the seventh season of "America's Got Talent" returns tonight.

From here on out, I will be your recapper. And who am I? Well, I'm a Baltimore-based writer who mostly writes about rap music for SPIN, and I've also contributed to places like Pitchfork, The Village Voice, as well as b and City Paper.

I'm also a pretty big Howard Stern fan and Howard joining judges Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel, is what got me watching. I wasn't even all that interested in seeing Howard on "AGT", but I knew I had to watch because morning commutes with the Stern show weren't going to make too much sense if I wasn't up on the competitive reality show's weekly drama. Clearly, "AGT" was going to be all that the King of Satellite Radio would discuss. 

It turns out however, that "AGT" is one of the most fascinating and weirdly affecting "real" reality shows out there. Hiding behind the competition narrative, which "AGT" is in no hurry to resolve, is what really fuels the show: An adorable bunch of eccentrics.

There certainly isn't a dearth of exploitative and horrifying reality TV full of freaks and maniacs, but "AGT," particularly its host Nick Cannon, seems to love its weirdos. The guys who are more of a Reno act than "a Vegas act": Ulysses, the savant-like singer of TV theme songs; Big Barry, a creepily miniscule crooner; whoever that guy that played the vacuum like it was a saxophone; Horse, the inevitable wild card choice who got pretty far by allowing himself to be kicked in the testicles really, really hard.

Even the more serious acts -- ones with a legit chance of winning -- include Joe Castillo, a hippie-dippie hyper-sincere sand artist, contortionist street performer, imminent cult leader Turf, and Edon, a 14 year-old who is best described as the Orthodox Jewish version of Coldplay's Chris Martin.

Tonight's episode is "The YouTube Snapple Special" and features 12 acts out of a whole bunch who auditioned via YouTube and as a result, are able to move right into the semi-finals.

What? How is that fair? People waited in line for hours to audition and now a bunch of goons from the Internet skip all that? "AGT" likes to throw viewers curveballs like that. Maybe too many curveballs.

Sure, reality television is all about the tease and delaying results for as long as possible but "AGT" feels particularly circuitous. Consider the "wild card," which allows the judges to bring back an eliminated contestant. Sharon used it on the previous episode to keep All That!, a group of cloggers that look like meth dealers, in competition. Next week will be entirely devoted to wild card picks.

For dedicated viewers of the show, tonight will be a much-anticipated return after a three-week break. But if you've not watched "AGT" before, tonight's a good time to start.

The YouTube contestants are new to anybody who tunes in, and next week's wild card contestants will kind of reset the show's bracket of contestants. A conventional recap of who's in the top 12 and all that stuff won't matter for two whole weeks. It's a good time to jump in.

Follow Brandon on Twitter: @notrivia