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What almost seemed like a hallucination in 2017 is now a fast-approaching reality. American Idol, the most popular show on television for a large chunk of this still-young century, is returning to the airwaves on ABC two years after it was canceled by Fox. And, per producers and stars, it’s not changing (with one small caveat).
ABC trotted out the cast of its revived Idol for the first time on Monday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, posting up Ryan Seacrest and company for reporters — many of whom expressed skepticism about the timing of the reboot. Seacrest seemed to share their concerns. The returning host offered up his thoughts on why the last few seasons of the Fox version didn’t produce any breakout talent and why that’s such a priority this time around.
“What was important to me [about the reboot] was that there were going to be stars on the show that were going to come on to collaborate and take this seriously and give the franchise what it deserves,” he told one TV critic. “The legacy of this franchise is important to me and to its fans.”
The question of finding breakout talent, the way Idol did for so many years, was a more dominant thread in the conversation than ones about ratings and singing-show fatigue. Katy Perry, the show’s $25 million marquee judge, referred to it as her top priority.
“Literally, we are wasting our time if we are not finding another star,” said Perry. “I take it very seriously, sometimes to my detriment.”
“That makes us work harder as a judging panel,” added Luke Bryan, when no one onstage could immediately name an American Idol winner from its last few seasons on Fox. “Because there are a few years where you don’t remember those contestants, we don’t want it to go that way. We want it to go right back to what it was known for.”
One thing Idol was known for was its mocking of 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.
“It doesn’t feel comfortable to put borderline unstable people up on stage and laugh at them,” said Kinane. To her point, reality television has largely evolved past the kind of personality profiteering and audiences are savvier about how people get on camera.
“I think that people once thought that the judges saw everyone, and now you know there’s a line of producers who screen before them,” the showrunner added, noting that there is still room for the stray eccentric. “We want the humor, but we don’t want the exploitation.”
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