Kieran, dim the lights... the lights in the American Idol contestants’ houses and apartments, that is. After much speculation, and Idol producers reportedly exploring “multiple options within state guidelines" to continue the current season without an audience, it has now been confirmed that the Idol show will go on — from home.
Last Sunday was supposed to mark the start of American Idol Season 18’s regular live competitive episodes, but with production recently suspended due to coronavirus concerns and the just-announced top 20 now quarantining with their families, the remainder of the season has been in flux. Instead, last weekend ABC had to air a two-hour, behind-the-scenes clip show, American Idol: This Is Me. But that same Sunday evening, host Ryan Seacrest did promise viewers, “Soon, you will vote on your top 20,” and judge Katy Perry hinted in a Facebook Live Q&A that the series would “get creative” “from our own homes” in the coming weeks.
And now, it’s official: This season of American Idol will remotely broadcast from the judges’ and contestants’ homes. Seacrest, Perry, and judge Lionel Richie will be participate from their Los Angeles living rooms, while judge Luke Bryan and mentor Bobby Bones will be social-distancing from Nashville. And the contestants will compete from their own homes for America’s votes.
How will @AmericanIdol continue?— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) April 14, 2020
I'll be judging from California ☀️@LionelRichie from LA 👋@LukeBryanOnline & @mrBobbyBones in Nashville.🤠@RyanSeacrest will host from Cali!🌴
Contestants perform at their house!🎤
America will VOTE from HOME and choose a WINNER!🗳️🎉 pic.twitter.com/DF1emYAfuR
While many TV productions that were previously dependent on live studio audiences — from late-night and daytime talk shows to even Saturday Night Live — have switched to an at-home format with varying degrees of success, this setup could actually work wonderfully for American Idol. The show has always been about humble regular folks, the proverbial girls and boys next door, pursuing their dreams — so a peek inside the contestants’ homes could resonate with longtime viewers. Additionally, the ratings for recent at-home musical specials like Elton John’s Living Room Concert for America and ACM Presents: Our Country indicate that music fans are perfectly happy to watch stripped-down performances on television.
What will be key going forward is if producers can figure out a way to level the playing field. I suspect that singer-songwriter contestants accustomed to accompanying themselves on acoustic guitars or small keyboards may have an advantage over flashy pop singers who normally would have relied on a full professional backing band. But of course, many of these Season 18 kids have grown up with YouTube/Instagram culture, so they’ll be much more comfortable singing in their familiar bedrooms than performing on a fancy soundstage, regardless. In fact, two of this season’s hopefuls, teenagers Cyniah Elise and Lauren Spencer-Smith, went viral long before they were even on Idol, racking up millions of views for amateur videos of them singing at home or in the car.
But some contestants may be less technologically savvy. And others — particularly those living in hot zones (like Harlem’s Just Sam and Staten Island’s Julia Gargano), the projects, or rural areas, may not have easy access to quality video/audio equipment or even a robust internet connection. A source with knowledge of the show’s production tells Yahoo Entertainment it will soon be announced exactly how contestants will record and submit their weekly performances, but right now the process is “still being ironed out.”
“It’s very interesting; it’s all sort of coming together,” Seacrest mused during a Tuesday conversation with Bryan on his radio show, On the Air with Ryan Seacrest. “But the other thing that Luke and I and Katy and Lionel and the contestants are still figuring out... we are going to go on the air every single Sunday for America’s vote. Now, we’re not quite sure how — but we’re doing it!”
“It’s going to be a living and breathing thing that we’re going to have to figure out, week after week,” Bryan admitted. But Bryan also stressed that this is the right way to proceed, given the crazy situation. “I don’t want us to let [the contestants’] dreams down. I want us to be able to really showcase these kids to the best of our ability, and I think we’re going to be able to do that, and it’s going to be an interesting way we go about it,” he said. “The talent this year is really exciting, and I want to give them every opportunity to shine.”
However it pans out, this will be a historic experiment for sure, and it might be just the feel-good family fare that the America needs right now. It should be noted that this series premiered exactly nine months after 9/11, on June 11, 2002, and many television critics have theorized that it was this specific timing — providing upbeat, escapist entertainment when the country was hurting and healing — that contributed to its early success.
The at-home American Idol semifinals will kick off Sunday, April 26, following this coming Sunday’s part two This Is Me special.
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