NBC’s reality series America’s Got Talent, usually a staple of the summer into the fall, is trying something a little bit different with America’s Got Talent: The Champions. What few may realize is that there are different versions of the show airing around the world with unique acts and judges, and what this is going to do is bring past winners from all of those different series together and put them in competition against each other.

“The show is in about 160 countries,” explains Simon Cowell, who is joined by usual AGT judges Mel B, Heidi Klum, and Howie Mandel, as well as new host Terry Crews. “So the idea that we could bring in people who’ve won other shows around the world against the people who won the American show — well, it’s why I keep describing it as the Olympics.”

According to the network, the AGT format has had more than 900 million global viewers since it began airing in 2006 and has aired in 194 markets worldwide. In fact, the franchise holds the Guinness World Records title as the Most Successful Reality Television Format in history, with 70 local versions produced across Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle-East, Africa, and the Americas.

Explains Simon, “We’ve wanted to do this show for years and this year we finally said, “You know what? We don’t really know what it is, but let’s just do it!” And that’s literally how it started. I’m not kidding. Two days before we started filming, we weren’t a hundred percent certain what the show was. We know who was competing, but we didn’t know what was going to happen. But then, something magical happened when we actually started shooting, which was that you remember all these people, but you’re seeing them in a different context because you’ve got winners of certain years taking on other winners of certain years, so the stakes are much higher. And in most cases, everyone ups their game.

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(Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

“It was more emotional than I thought it was going to be,” he continues, “because, you know, obviously you look at what their lives were like then and compare it to now, and it’s just unbelievable. The thing I respect most of all are the people who would come back to compete again. People who had won, and that in its own way defines them as champions. I think if you’re a real winner, you always want to complete. The best Olympic athletes in the world are the people who’ve come back four years later and done it again. Those are the true champions, and that was the interesting part of this show.”

America’s Got Talent: The Champions begins airing on NBC Monday, Jan. 7.