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Kelly Clarkson, a Modern Family Star, and More: Most Memorable AGT Guest Judges

It's not easy being a guest Judge, but many superstars have left their mark on America's Got Talent with Golden Buzzers and even harsh criticism for performers.

By Caitlin Schunn

We have yet to see a guest Judge as Auditions for Season 18 of America’s Got Talent are underway — and our panel of Judges, which includes Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum, and Howie Mandel is certainly more than enough. But a range of talented people, from actors to singers to TV personalities, have all graced the AGT stage over the years. Here are some of the most memorable AGT guest Judges.

Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris appears at an event.

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The Tony and Emmy winner, known for his role as Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, was one of the first ever to join the Judges panel as a guest in Season 10 in 2015, and he definitely left a lasting impression. He famously gave his Golden Buzzer to a very unusual act: a magician by the name of Piff The Magic Dragon.

Piff the Magic Dragon not only brought his tricks, but inspired laughs, especially from Harris.

RELATED: A List of All The Times Simon Cowell Pressed the Golden Buzzer On America's Got Talent

“I loved all of it,” Harris said after the act. “I loved the comedy. I loved the actual skill you have in magic. I love your attitude. I’m kinda blown away by it, and I think it’s great. And I don’t think we need to deliberate much because I’m using my Golden Buzzer!”

Eric Stonestreet

Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara posing in front of the American flag.

It was a Modern Family reunion of sorts as Eric Stonestreet joined as a guest Judge for Season 15 in 2020, sitting alongside his former co-star and AGT Judge Sofia Vergara.

Judge Heidi Klum was out sick, so Vergara told the audience at the time she “solved the problem” and “called one of my friends,” according to Entertainment Tonight.

Stonestreet tried to share his honest opinions when he was giving feedback to groups like the Xtreme Dance Crew during their audition.

“I love your ambition … but it seemed a little disjointed for me, for my tastes,” Stonestreet said.

Although he never got to push a Golden Buzzer in his time on the show, Stonestreet raved about the experience — minus one detail.

“I felt bad running into a couple of the people that I had to, unfortunately, say no to,” he told PEOPLE, saying he came “face-to-face with contestants backstage both who got through, and those who didn’t get through.”

Chris Hardwick

Chris Hardwick appears at an America's Got Talent event.

The comedian first appeared as a guest Judge for Season 12 in 2017 and came back again for Season 13 in 2018.  He was part of AGT history when he gave his Golden Buzzer to Angelica Hale during her version of Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire,” making Hale the first contestant to ever get the Golden Buzzer twice.

RELATED: Inside Donovyn Diaz’s Moving and “Beautiful” Audition Dedicated to His Mom

He was also famously scared of contortionist Troy James, who brought him onstage to be part of his performance in August 2018, according to Entertainment Tonight. James twisted and moved above Hardwick as he looked on in horror.

Kenan Thompson

Kenan Thompson appears on stage during the People's Choice Awards.

He’s been a mainstay on NBC’s Saturday Night Live for 20 years — making him the longest-tenured cast member in the show’s history. Kenan Thompson made his AGT debut during Season 15 in 2020, filling in for Judge Simon Cowell after he broke his back at his home, according to PEOPLE.

Thompson was joined by a memorable face at the Judges panel, his 6-year-old daughter, Georgia, according to USA Today.

He did his best to embody the persona of Cowell while he took his place, and imitated Cowell’s criticism in a British accent, in this Facebook video.


“I didn’t love it, I actually hated it,” Thompson joked in the video. “That’s the line, right? I’m pretty good at Simon.”

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson performing on stage.

The American Idol winner and longtime Coach on The Voice also lended her expertise to AGT during Season 15 in 2020 when Cowell was out with his back injury. It was a full circle moment for Clarkson, who faced Cowell as a Judge on American Idol before taking his chair as a guest at the Judges table.

Clarkson said on her show, NBC’s The Kelly Clarkson Show, that she was nervous to fill in for the famous critic.

“As I’m watching it, I’m thinking, you’re actually doing TOO well here,” Cowell joked to Clarkson when he joined her on her show. He also called her British accent “dreadful.”

Jay Leno

Jay Leno appears at an event.

The late-night funnyman also joined the panel as an AGT guest Judge for Season 14 in 2019.

“I think I was a fair Judge,” Leno said of his time on the show. “I know how hard people work, and I never wanted to be cruel or mean. I think I found the good points in everybody, because some were better than others.”

DJ Khaled

Dj Khaled appears at an event.

The multi-platinum record producer joined as a guest Judge for Season 12 in 2017 —  and one singer in particular caught his eye.

Chase Goehring performed an original song he wrote himself, called “A Capella,” and DJ Khaled was such a fan, he pressed his Golden Buzzer.

“I put out a lot of hit records,” he said on AGT. “Let me tell you something. The lyrics — they’re so real and authentic, like an a capella. You’re on your way to be a star. This show and this stage is gonna make you into a superstar!”  

After pressing his Golden Buzzer, Goehring rushed off the stage to embrace DJ Khaled, who could be heard on the show telling him, “we gotta work together, we gotta do something together.”

Reba McEntire

Reba McEntire performing on stage.

Although she was already a familiar face onThe Voice as a Battle Advisor and Mentor for several seasons (and soon-to-be Coach for Season 24!), the country music star joined AGT Season 11 in 2016 as a guest Judge.

McEntire was blown away by Sofie Dossi, a contortionist who incorporated a bow and arrow into her act. But it wasn’t just any archery trick — Dossi used her feet to hit a target with a flaming arrow.

“I think actions speak louder than words,” McEntire said before hitting her Golden Buzzer.

She then joined the young girl up on the stage.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before — you just dazzled me,” McEntire said. “I love to be entertained and you entertained me.”

Many others have been a guest judge on AGT since Season 10, including Brad Paisley, Ellie Kemper, George Lopez, Ken Jeong, Marlon Wayans, Martina McBride, Michael Bublé, Olivia Munn, and Seal.

Who will be a guest judge this season? Watch America’s Got Talent on NBC Tuesdays at 8/7c and the next day on Peacock to find out.