American Idol is about to make history amid the worldwide health pandemic. The ABC singing competition will air its first-ever remote episodes featuring performances from the Top 20 contestants’ homes, and now producers are revealing exactly how it will go down.
In a new interview with Billboard, Idol showrunner Trish Kinane revealed that the decision of how best to move forward from the taped auditions filmed months ago to “live” remote episodes took a lot of brainstorming, but that there was never the thought that the current season would just end at Hollywood Week, despite the unprecedented circumstances.
In the end, there will be “mini-studios” in the homes of the 20 contestants, judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan; in-house mentor Bobby Bones; and host Ryan Seacrest, as well as and dozens of producers and executives who will also be dialed in come showtime.
Kinane said that fairness is “hugely important” because American Idol is a competition. Because the contestants live all over the country with access to different internet sources, routers were sent to some to make sure they’re all on the “same level.” The show’s production team has been working closely with service providers around the country to make sure that everyone has the same internet speed.
The contestants have also been working with Idol producers to shoot package footage on their iPhones, and they are working with their vocal coaches and accompanying musicians virtually via conferencing platforms like Zoom.
“We’ve very conscious that this is a music show and it’s gotta be good,” Kinane said, adding that there will still be a band and backup singers for the American Idol talent.
With close to four dozen different remote locations at play, a lot will be going on when American Idol transfers to the real-time episodes.
“It will be Ryan introducing the judges, the judges messing around as they do, stand by for some amazing outfit from Katy Perry,” Kinane said. “She’s not just going to sit there in her pajamas. Bobby [Bones] from Nashville and then the 20 contestants remotely from their homes.”
Viewers will still be able to vote, and there will also still be celebrity guests along the way.
Much of the show will be recorded “as-live” the day before the airdate to ensure there are no technical glitches, but the results will air “live-live” because viewers will have been voting throughout the show. Split-screen shots will capture the contestants’ reactions, and Seacrest will milk the drama even without a resident light-dimmer on hand.
“But with the judges, we’ll be watching them live,” Kinane clarified. “They’ll be watching the thing they taped the day before and they will be seeing it there and then and commenting there and then….The three judges and the contestant and Ryan will all be able to see each other, talk to each other and comment on the performances.”
In comments to an Idol promo posted on Instagram, some viewers petitioned for the network to give the Top 20 the showcasing they worked so hard for. Others said the finalists deserve to perform on a stage in front of a crowd and urged American Idol bosses to postpone the season.
The American Idol showrunner told Billboard that while the contestants are disappointed to miss out on the glam aspects of the stage shows, they have all adapted well to the changes and are excited for the next leg of the TV talent competition.