It might be hard to remember a time when The Voice was not the most dominant singing competition on television. But before Adam Levine and Blake Shelton charmed the world with their bromance, there was American Idol, and perhaps the most iconic judging trio of all time: Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. Though judges eventually came and left (remember when Ellen DeGeneres was briefly on the panel?), and the winners had various levels of success (the show discovered stars Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, but also had many winners that faded into obscurity), American Idol was the gold standard of talent competitions for a long time. Idol wrapped on Fox in 2016, but ABC has revived the classic reality show, giving it a new network and a new look for 2018. But how is the new American Idol different than the original?
For starters, it's got a new judging panel. American Idol has always struggled to recreate the magic of the original three judges, a balance of performers and industry insiders who could be supportive, smart with their critique, and harsh when the occasion called for it. Sometimes, the producers were lured in by star power to make some poor choices for the judging panel— in many ways, the disastrous season that featured Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson and Keith Urban marked the beginning of Idol's decline. This new panel, comprised of industry superstars Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan, could have also fallen into the trap of combining too many big names.
But early reviews of the show indicate that this new panel has great chemistry. A Variety review states that "the judges’ panel makes passable competition for the judges on NBC’s The Voice," and characterizes the relationship between the three as "charming." In an interview with the whole judging panel on Good Morning America, Richie stated that he felt "as if we've been in school together for the last 40 years ... excuse me, I should say 20 years." In the same interview, Perry referred to the trio as a "dream team." So it seems like the new American Idol panel is poised to be a success.
But some fans of the old show might worry that with so many singing competitions released since Idol originally began, the new version of the show might change the format in order to compete. Luckily, it seems like the classic golden ticket to Hollywood is here to stay. Variety reports that Ryan Seacrest, who has been a host of the show from the very first season, said during a panel for the show at ABC’s day of the Television Critics Association winter press tour that he believed the show's format has been essential to its past success:
“It’s different obviously because of these personalities but the show, at its core, works. The format works in practice. We go out, we look for young talented people, they see the judges, they come back to Hollywood, and they’ll have to step up. There’s been a lot of talk about how is the show different. You’ve got three different faces, you’ve got different contestants, but to change the show drastically in terms of format would be a big mistake.”
The audition process might look a little different this year, though. Billboard reports that the new Idol has done away with the old gag of sending some of the most terrible contestants through to the judging panel. At the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, showrunner Trish Kinane shared the reasoning behind doing away with an essential part of the American Idol audition episodes:
"It doesn't feel comfortable to put borderline unstable people up on stage and laugh at them. 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. We want the humor, but we don't want the exploitation."
So though there won't be any more William Hungs, or Renaldo Lapuzs, it's probably for the best that the show will no longer be exploiting those who may actually be crestfallen to find out they are not destined to become professional singers.
The look of the show might be a little different from what fans remember — though since we won't arrive at the live shows for a few more weeks, we don't yet know what the stage setup for the Top 24 will be. But the official American Idol Twitter reveals a new performance space for the show, with a stage that looks very integrated with the audience, and a judging table that seems higher up on the balcony, and farther away from the stage than usual. The new look might be for Hollywood rounds, or for the final solos before the Top 24 are selected.
The show will also add a new "mentor" to the mix, country radio host Bobby Bones. According to USA Today, Bones will be there to guide the Top 24 through their journey, and create and promote their brand. His advice will include tips on "stage presence, dealing with media, posting on social media, remaining focused and being authentic and original." This is part of the push those involved in the American Idol reboot are undergoing to ensure that unlike later seasons of the show, where the winners tended to fade into relative obscurity, the newest installment of the show will find a true superstar, of Kelly Clarkson caliber.
"Literally, we are wasting our time if we are not finding another star," Perry said during the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, per Billboard. "I take it very seriously, sometimes to my detriment." Fellow judge Luke Bryan agreed. "That makes us work harder as a judging panel," he said, per Billboard, "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."
Only time will tell whether the new installment of American Idol will be as successful as the original show. But maybe, just maybe, the next superstar will be discovered in the next few months.