I don’t think you will see anything quite as amazing on TV this year as the Mongolian singer Enkh Erdene, who says he does not speak English, crooning the country song “Amarillo by Morning” with just the right touch of drawl and grit.
The self-dubbed “Mongolian Cowboy” made his first trip to the U.S. to appear on the new CBS series “The World’s Best,” which launched after the Super Bowl to an audience of more than 22 million and now airs at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Sure, it’s just another TV talent show with a $1 million prize for the winner. But what makes the show special is its planetary sweep. At a time when people say mean things about other cultures and countries, “The World’s Best” is a glorious celebration of the gifts of global citizens — Americans, to be sure, but also a singer from Kazakhstan who boasts of a six-octave range, and two Chinese acrobats who can balance and hop on one arm. And, of course, a singing nun from Italy who performs Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” with great exuberance and without a hint of irony.
The definition of talent is broad. Escape artist Matt Johnson, from the U.K., chains himself up and is locked in a glass box full of water, then tries to get out before he dies. CBS posted this warning on the screen: ”DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.”
Despite its global thrust, the show does put America first. The three main judges are actor Drew Barrymore, singer Faith Hill and RuPaul, the host of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” They are front and center on camera, bathed in light. They assign up to 50 points per contestant. Behind them is what the show calls its “wall of the world” — rows of seats populated by the likes of Nigerian film star Kate Henshaw, K-pop producer Alex Wright and Panamanian record producer Luigie Gonzalez. It’s great to get voices rarely, if ever, heard on U.S. TV. But each of them can only award 1 point.
James Corden of “The Late Late Show” is the charming host. I just wish he did not lead the studio audience in shouting “shame” when a judge makes an unpopular assessment of a performer.
RuPaul, meanwhile, is the show’s secret weapon. His irreverence adds a welcome edge. After the nun’s solo, RuPaul slyly notes, “The church is really progressive now!”