So the Muppets performed Wednesday night on America’s Got Talent on NBC, and the question all Muppet fans are asking now is: What the hell happened to Kermit?

Kermit, Miss Piggy, and some chickens appeared on the show, singing “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart.” The chickens were lovely, and I thought Miss Piggy looked and sounded great. Of course, the Muppets have already done “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” once before, on The Muppet Show with Elton John, but most people don’t remember that, so it’s not a bad song choice for a Kermit/Piggy duet. The attempt at presenting the number as a little romantic drama was really awkward, but that wasn’t the thing that made Muppet fans do double takes and fall off their couches in disbelief.

Perhaps it wasn’t obvious to David Hasselhoff or Sharon Osbourne or the average viewer, but we Muppet geeks noticed immediately that Kermit the Frog — our old pal Kermit, our close personal friend Kermit — was not performed by Steve Whitmire, the dude who’s performed the frog since Jim Henson’s death in 1990. If you missed it, you can see for yourself — As of this writing, the number is on YouTube, as seen below:

So we Muppet fans are confused and upset right now. There are two questions that immediately come to mind. The first, of course, is Who? If Kermit was not played by the guy who’s been playing him for the last 19 years, then who was it? Word has it that it was Artie Esposito, a puppeteer who’s worked on several Sesame Street projects in recent years. You know, I have no doubt he’s a decent guy and a fine puppeteer, but I gotta say, I’d hate to be in his shoes right now.

Of course, every professional puppeteer wants to work with the Muppets, and I’m sure it would be very tempting to take a gig as one of the world’s favorite puppet characters… but on the Tough Pigs and Muppet Central forums, reactions to the appearance have been overwhelmingly negative, and not without reason. Kermit’s performance was stiff, and the voice… well, we know what Kermit sounds like, and this just didn’t sound like Kermit. The moment when he ran backstage and yelled at Nick Cannon was especially unfortunate.

The next question, then, is Why? Why wasn’t Kermit performed by Steve Whitmire? And that question is bound to have a more complicated answer. I don’t have any first-hand information, so all I can do is speculate, which is exactly what we’ve been doing on the Tough Pigs forum. Did Steve have to drop out unexpectedly? (We were originally promised a Statler & Waldorf cameo, and the fact that they failed to materialize is eyebrow-raising considering Steve Whitmire has been Statler’s performer for the last few years.) Was the new performer brought in at the last minute?

Or is there a more dramatic reason? There’s the possibility that The Great Kermit the Frog Switch has something to do with contract negotiations… but that suggestion opens a door to a dark and messy place I’d rather not venture into. In fact, I had a lot more to say here, but I just deleted it because it’s way too early to get too doom-y and gloomy, as fun as that would be.

The fact is, this thing just happened, so the whole story’s not clear yet. With any luck, we’ll get an explanation soon… though it may or may not be reassuring. Jeez, what a weird day to be a Muppet fan.

Click here to talk about the AGT Kermit debacle on the Tough Pigs forum!

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