American Idol wants to get back in the business of making stars. The longtime talent show, which is being revived by ABC starting on March 11th, faded in ratings over its last seasons on Fox before ending in 2016.
The memorable talents boosted by the show – like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood – were all a part of the show’s heyday a decade earlier.
Ryan Seacrest is back as host of Idol, but it will have three new judges in Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. They say they see themselves as mentors and instructors. Challenged during a Television Critics Association panel to name the three final winners of American Idol, none of the cast members or producers attempted it. Bryan acknowledged that was a weakness of the show’s final years, and judges said wanted to mold some memorable talent.
Katy Perry said the entire goal is to find an Idol – not just a star, “Literally, we are wasting our time if we do not find a star. America doesn’t need a star. . . . They need like a real legit American Idol. It’s a beautiful story. And we need those beautiful stories right now to help lift us up, inspire us and believe in ourselves again.”
Luke Bryan and his fellow judges said they were committed to restoring the luster to the franchise, “That makes us focus harder as a judging panel because, yeah, there are a few years… where you don’t really remember those contestants. . . . We want it to be right back to where American Idol is known for, building those American idols. And it’s each of us sitting around going, ‘Is this person going to be what we want them to be’?”
Lionel Richie said he’s been asked often to do instructional videos on making it in the music business and he always resisted, wondering how many people would be interested. But he realized he would be able to offer that advice as a judge on American Idol, “So all the things I was going to put in my video and my CD and my Master Class, I’m actually going to be able to tell the person … in person. I consider myself the instructor.”
Seacrest acknowledged the show’s failure to produce real superstars in its later years and that it was important that the judging panel this time around was more than just big names, “Something that was important to me . . . that there were going to be three or four stars on the show who weren’t just going to be individual stars, but were going to come on to collaborate. To take this seriously and to give the franchise what it deserves. The legacy of this franchise is important to fans, it’s important to us who have worked on it for a long time.”
One thing Idol was known for was mocking bad singers during the early audition rounds, an aspect famously rebuked by NBC’s The Voice when it premiered in 2011 and ultimately stole Idol’s thunder. Showrunner Trish Kinane said that would no longer be the case, though she was also quick to note the original version of the show had leaned away from that in its later years, saying, “You might have noticed in the past few years, we haven’t really majored on people who are really bad because one of the key things about the show is it shouldn’t feel manipulated or fake, because 15 years ago, nobody had ever seen it and it was funny. Viewers know now, they’ve all watched all these shows in 15 years, and it doesn’t feel comfortable to put borderline unstable people up and laugh at them.”
However, Kinane wanted to make it clear that the show will still be fun – and funny, “That’s not to say we don’t want humor in Idol. Humor is a very important part of Idol, so if someone’s eccentric, slightly different, or if they’ve got a different voice or if they do something we don’t normally hear, we’ll put that up, that’s fun.”