Inside 'American Idol's' First Hollywood Week for ABC
The singing competition is set to return in March.
“I'm sorry, I just don't know how to critique sitting down. It's never been my style,” Lionel Richie says as he rises from his white chair from behind the judges' table to give four contestants some of his nearly five decades of career wisdom.
“The most powerful thing you have is the walk. When you go to that side of the stage, walk to that side of the stage. Don’t stroll, don’t mamsy-pamsy. Walk!” he exclaims, snapping his fingers to illustrate his point.
Richie continues as Katy Perry leans over and mischievously places an inflated whoopee cushion on his chair. Luke Bryan snickers. The “Hello” singer is so caught up in his feedback — at one point interrupting himself to rave about his role as an Idol judge (“I love doing this. This is right up my alley.") — that he is completely unaware of what is happening behind him and abruptly sits down. Cue the fart noise.
Richie hops out of his chair and playfully scolds his two colleagues. “I've tried to bring some dignity and some adult, but ‘whoopee’ is not in my adult calculation. That is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting,” he says, dusting off his tan sport jacket. Perry and Bryan, who have an uncanny bond, cannot stop laughing.
And this is what you can expect from the reincarnation of American Idol.
The show, which returns March 11 on ABC, is well underway. On Wednesday, Billboard was invited to sit in on day three of Hollywood Week and can confirm that the season is off to an entertaining start. Returning host Ryan Seacrest was not present at the taping, and his absence gave the audience of mostly contestant family members the chance to digest the dynamic of the show’s three new judges.
After watching Richie critique the first group of performers, it was instantly apparent that he was born for the job. And Perry and Bryan know it. At one point, the “Swish Swish” star took a playful jab at her musical elder, accusing him of coming on American Idol to solidify his "legendary status.” But in his defense, Richie was overflowing with advice — from the perspective of being a performer in a rising musical group, The Commodores, to achieving accomplished solo artist status. He took giving notes seriously but occasionally let his guard down to throw in a few wisecracks; his favorite joke of the day was reminding the contestants, who had been up late working out their vocal arrangements, that they had been up “all night long.”
Perry brings the sparkle to the set. The pop star sat in the middle spot in a flashy shirt, a black leather beret and matching leather pants and was a fitting contrast to her male counterparts. While she was predictably the most bubbly of the bunch, what we didn’t see coming was Perry’s bluntness. She found a way to personally connect with every contestant that she critiqued, whether it be complimenting their outfit or recent hair change, but wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is, even if that meant crushing a few dreams.
At one point during the auditions, she looked a timid contestant in the eye and said, “Get control of your nerves because they are not doing well for you.” She encouraged another contestant, saying, "I don't know if you think you should be here still, but I think you should be here still." When a group approached the judges' podium during their song's finale, she told them it was fun but that she doesn’t want her space invaded every time. She even got frisky with Bryan at one point after disagreeing with one of his comments, noting, “I can't wait till we get to the live shows. You should just wear a muzzle. It's going to be the best TV in the world. I don't know about your career, though.”
Bryan brings the Blake Shelton to the podium. He sat still during the majority of the performances but came alive with each and every chance he had to toss a cheesy joke into the mix. The country star got a few witty comments in here and there, but it wasn’t until a group performing under the moniker of "Tako" came out that he really began to shine. One of the band members revealed that they named themselves Tako because they would be so good that, after they performed, the judges “would want to tako 'bout them.” “Don’t make us run for the border,” quipped Bryan, who then went on to ask them questions like, “Who in the group is the sour cream?”
As unique as they are, the judges really work synergistically. Case in point: When a group of young performers took the stage, Richie began to tell them that they had a lot going for them, particularly their youth and enthusiasm. “And collagen!” Perry proclaimed. “I miss it so much.”
One of the contestants attempted to butter up the songstress: “Katy, what are you talking about? You’re beautiful. My gosh.” But flattery got her absolutely nowhere. “Do you know what collagen is? No? Exactly. Goodbye!” Perry joked. And in came Bryan with the line that ended the conversation. “It’s not something after college.”
The contestants brought an array of talent, spanning a multitude of musical genres with a varied performance background. Some arrived as seasoned singers, comfortable owning their space onstage and validating their arrival in Hollywood, while others, like one male contestant in particular, came down with extreme stage fright mid-performance but somehow advanced to see another day on the show.
Though Idol has a new network and a fresh start, Hollywood Week appeared to be business as usual with no major changes in the rules. In true American Idol fashion, the reason behind the episode was for the pool of potential winners to be drastically dwindled down, which meant sending home at least one singer from every group that performed.
Those that were told they were not moving forward wiped a few tears away and gracefully left the stage. But the judges took their being cut loose the hardest. “I’m having a very tough time with this,” Richie said at one point, admitting that he wasn’t liking his job at that particular moment. Perry sighed in agreement, while Bryan tried to console a fallen member of Tako. “We love you, baby. We love you,” he cried out.
The judges may have the banter down, but they're definitely going to have to brush up on their Simon Cowell detachment.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.