Just ahead of the Season 18 finale, ABC renewed American Idol for Season 19, and the show is already (virtually) casting for the next season. The news doesn't come as much of a surprise: not only is American Idol the network's most-watched reality series, it's actually one of the few shows that's been able to keep filming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the Center of Disease Control's advisement against large gatherings, American Idol shut down live tapings and pivoted to remote performances. According to Billboard, it was a big undertaking that required sending equipment to the 20 contestants' homes so that everybody had the same technology to produce their performances.
The Wall Street Journal reported that putting the show together requires roughly 230 Zoom meetings per week, some of which are meetings between the contestants and their voice coaches, some of which are contestants sharing their songs with producers, and some of which are meetings calling in the judges to weigh in on the performances, American Idol showrunner Trish Kinane told Billboard.
It's a lot of work, but Kinane said the network didn't consider shutting the season down for good. "There was never a conversation about completely scrapping this season with ABC," Kinane explained. "We owed it to these kids to carry on. Because who knows if we would be able to pick it up later in the year, and if we did when would it be and would people care if it was in November or something?"
As for when Season 19 might begin airing, American Idol will likely return early next year. Previous seasons have premiered in February or March, so expect that same timeline for 2021. Kinane told Billboard that she's holding off until after the Season 18 finale to make a true Season 19 plan, but that the show will adhere to new guidelines once online auditions are over. "Obviously if this carries on we won't be able to have huge gatherings. But what is a huge gathering? It depends on what the guidance and social distances are and what the rules are," she said.
Considering that the show has already managed to put together a half-remote season, however, it shouldn't be difficult to carry that into Season 19.