‘American Idol’ – Returning ‘Idol’ Alum, Platinum Tickets, and Celebrating 20 Seasons

American Idol 2022 TCA Panel
Katy Perry, Megan Wolflick, Ryan Seacrest, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie during the ‘American Idol’ Winter TCA panel. (ABC)

ABC’s 2022 winter Television Critics Association (TCA) panel for American Idol with Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Ryan Seacrest was conducted via Zoom, but showrunner and executive producer Megan Michaels Wolflick remains hopeful season 20’s live shows can be conducted in front of a studio audience.

Wolflick joined the season 20 judges and host Ryan Seacrest to discuss what fans can expect when the new season arrives on Sunday, February 27, 2022. Addressing concerns over the Covid pandemic impacting the show once again, Wolflick said, “Last year we were able to have a safe, minimal, masked audience for the artists to kind of feed off of, whereas before we were at ‘Idol at Home’ – totally virtual. So it is, of course, our goal to have the fans back in the studio because that’s what makes the atmosphere. But having had this be our third year in the pandemic, we are ready to pivot on a dime at a moment’s notice. We are ready to be innovative, to push the envelope, to do anything we can to make this show move forward into 2022.

It is our aspiration at this moment to go back to having as many fans as possible in that studio, being completely safe with L.A. County and all of that. But, of course, we are always watching and pivoting every day,” explained Wolflick.

“I think we always want to do the show closest to its normal format and delivery and execution as possible because that’s where we all excel,” added Ryan Seacrest. “Nothing can replace being up close and personal with an artist in a moment when they’ve gone through a tough break or when they’ve gone through a big break.”

When the series returns for season 20 it will be without mentor Bobby Bones who announced earlier this month he won’t be back. Instead, viewers can expect to see familiar American Idol faces popping in to help the contestants.

“There is not anyone to replace Bobby per se, but this year we will be leaning into our amazing American Idol university alum to kind of help our current idols along the way in different stages of the competition. So, lots of those familiar faces who America has kind of grown to love will be seen throughout this season, and we’re very, very excited – and our alum are excited,” revealed Wolflick.

In celebration of the show’s 20th anniversary, American Idol added a new twist to the audition process. “In each place, there were three reserved platinum tickets, because I guess if you’ve been together for 20 years or married or whatever, platinum is the key,” said Katy Perry. “We identified the best talent in each place and we basically give them this ticket, because usually all of our tickets are gold. This ticket gives them the ability to go to Hollywood Week, which we’ve already filmed and was so rigorous and survival of the fittest. They get to basically observe from the box seats at the theater one day.

They get to rest their voice, strategize, check out the competition, and select who they want a duet with. Usually, it’s either they get to select in seasons past, or lately we’ve been selecting who people can duet with. But these three ticket holders, they get to select. So, they get a tiny advantage just because they’re the cream of the crop.”

Ryan Seacrest’s been in front of the camera as host since the show’s first episode way, way back in June 2002. Seacrest’s been through the series’ ups and downs, and this 20th anniversary has special meaning to him.

“To look back at all of those moments and see some of those contestants when they first met us on the road and see the time that’s gone by and the success that they have had is impactful. It’s pretty incredible. I got emotional watching some of those great moments, and I think back to the beginning of this show. And when we started – and, Megan, you know this – it was a purely pop and more personality-driven show. It’s been navigated to become a very heartfelt, human, and artist-driven show because of what the judges have done. I think they’ve done that deliberately, and I think that that’s what you are seeing with these artists that may never have normally auditioned for American Idol in the past. I think the fact that we can audition on a computer allows us to tap into talent that has never sung in front of human beings before but yet can make it to the next level with these three superstar judges,” said Seacrest.

American Idol Season 20
Music industry legends and all-star judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, along with Emmy¨-winning producer and host Ryan Seacrest, were on hand when ABC’s “American Idol” kicked off judge city auditions for the upcoming 20th season overall (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Entering into its 20th season American Idol’s set the bar high in terms of artists who’ve gone on to have incredibly successful careers after appearing on the Idol stage. Lionel Richie attributes that, in part, to the impact the judges have had on the contestants by sharing their own experiences and offering suggestions.

“I’ll speak from my side because I think there were years ago when I was first approached and they said, ‘Would you like to be a judge on American Idol?’ And I said, ‘Guys, I’m busy. I’m an artist. I have to be on the road. I want to be out where my fans are.’ And then all of a sudden, I got to a point in my life where you have all of this knowledge. You actually know a lot about what they are going through. So, when I was asked this time around, the answer was yeah. And Katy and Luke, what we have is experience. So, the difference is now we know exactly how they feel. We’ve been there before. We’ve heard nos more than we’ve ever heard yeses. And, so, to get here and to know what they are going through probably is half the game to us,” explained Lionel Richie.

“We had to overcome something to get here. So, each one of these kids now, we know what to tell them. I am now vested in the fact that what we talk to them about is our experiences and their experiences, and we relate,” said Richie. “We actually come together as mentors, as fathers and mothers because sometimes all they need is a hug just to understand what it’s all about – and that’s what we do as far as the judges. That’s why this show changed to what it is.”

Katy Perry agreed and added, “It’s not really necessarily about us. We are just kind of guiding them and supporting them and giving them cues and all of this knowledge that we’ve been able to cultivate over the decades. I think we really, really care because we’ve been in their shoes. We want to set them up for success.

We are hard on them because in the real world it is hard, but we are still doing it with grace. It’s about the 12 contestants. On this iteration of American Idol on ABC, it’s also really about singer-songwriters and artists and authentic talent. It’s not so much a singing competition. It’s like you’ve got to check a little bit of a bunch of boxes, and then, from there, we build.”

Ryan Seacrest believes American Idol does a great job of finding people across America who might not have the means to leave their hometowns. They locate talented people with, as Seacrest describes it, a “ferocious hunger” to make it. “And once that door opens, they are not going to let it go. And I think that there’s a hunger in all of that,” explained Seacrest.

Interest in auditioning for American Idol hasn’t waned and in fact, as Megan Michaels Wolflick pointed out, signups for this season’s auditions were higher than season 19’s. “It’s only going up. And I feel like it’s almost like contestants now are training like you would for the NFL as a child playing football, and they’ve been training for American Idol their whole life,” said Wolflick.

“The average age of our finalists this year is 20. So, it is the exact age that the show started, a full-circle moment,” added Wolflick. “And these three in the room this year, I would call it an extreme vocal makeover. They actually would help people, and, literally, you could see the before and after of where they came in. And after a couple of quick tips, they were transformed. And so, it’s that moment of really caring and being authentic that I think America subscribes to.”

Luke Bryan believes it’s the fact American Idol offers audiences the opportunity to get to know each of the contestants’ backstories that sets it apart from other competitions. “What people don’t realize, fans love the music of the artist but they love the story of the artist too. I think when you find out this person can sing, not only can they sing, but they’ve also navigated so many challenges of life… And when Idol tells those stories so beautifully, it makes the fans gravitate to that person even more which sets them up to go on and be a superstar because that person is so relatable right off the bat,” said Bryan.