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When American Idol broadcasts its first live show of season 13 on Tuesday night, viewers will experience what the top 31 contestants saw this afternoon for the first time — a brand-new set featuring many new elements, including a second stage directly in front of the seated audience, a lounge area where contestants will watch their co-competitors perform and gantries on two upper levels where even more members of the audience will stand as they surround the stage and become part of the 360-degree environment.
Before the contestants were escorted to the new Idol stage for their initial look, The Hollywood Reporter was invited to preview the new set and meet with executive producers Trish Kinane, Per Blankens, Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager, along with director Louis J. Horvitz and set designer Baz Halpin.
Standing in the center of the all-encompassing set, Ignjatovic pointed out many of the new pieces. “On the far side of the room is the audience and our ‘B’ stage. During results shows, we’ll do some eliminations there. We’re also excited about doing performances that touch the whole room. Perhaps a performance could start there and traverse the whole room. We have [audience members] all the way up to the ceiling — we have gantries all around. A lot of energy [will be] focused on our performances.”
Next week, the new judges’ desk, where Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban will sit, will be placed on top of the ‘B’ stage, but the week after it will take its rightful place between that second performance area and the main stage. The desk and chairs have been modernized and, symbolic of season 13 going for the gold, the American Idol logo will reflect that color instead of the traditional Idol blue.
Said Halpin of the new set’s genesis: “The origin of this design was an undecipherable sketch that Louis and I worked on. I think we were the only two people in the world who could really understand it. We wanted to capture that immersive feeling and really heighten the sense for the performers as well. We have a lounge area where the other contestants will all be seated watching their co-contestants perform, so there’s that extra sense of pressure. We wanted to create multiple areas where performances could take place. The ‘B’ stage area [helps us] to change… what our background is, what we’re looking at. It really helps us to open up the room.”
Horvitz, an Emmy-winning director who has helmed the Academy Awards and the Emmys, explained that, “the camera configuration is very complex. We’re using 17, sometimes 18 cameras in the room.” Directing Idol marks a return to series television for the man who once directed Solid Gold. “With the cameras I have here, I want to make this more like a motion picture [with] framing of 16:9. Most television shows are framed 4:3. When you use the cinematic frame, it really draws the people at home into the show. The focus is to get everybody to watch the show not as a rock concert but for the narrative, which is the contestants — give the audience as much information about the contestants as we possibly can in every single area.”
Ignjatovic elaborated, “You’ll see more of the narrative, seeing the families. Telling that story within the live shows is very important to us.”
Which families are still to be determined, as some of the 15 girls and 16 boys will be eliminated over the next three shows. The judges will select 10 girls and 10 boys to sing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. “They will base that decision on everything that has happened so far and also the workshop that we had with Randy Jackson,” said Blankens. “On Thursday we see America’s top 10, based on the votes. Then the judges will single out five kids to sing again live. By the end of that show they will pick three, so then we will have our top 13. They can only pick wild cards from the ones who performed on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
And three months later, we’ll have a season 13 winner. Who do you think deserves frontrunner status, Idol Worshipers? Let us know below…
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