'American Idol' judges preview Season Three ahead of premiere

Judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry are joined by in-house mentor Bobby Bones and host Ryan Seacrest for
Season 3 of American Idol, premiering Sunday, Feb. 16 on ABC. Photo: ABC
“American Idol” returns for season three this Sunday on ABC. Helping to determine who America will ultimately vote for to become the next singing sensation are music industry forces and superstar judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie with Ryan Seacrest returning as host of the Emmy-nominated series.

In the premiere episode, the show travels to on-wide journey across Savannah, Georgia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles, California; and Sunriver, Oregon, where the show’s iconic judge auditions will surprise audiences with never-before-seen twists. Those auditioning for the coveted ticket to Hollywood include a subway performer from Harlem who gives one of the most emotional auditions in “Idol” history; a garbage collector with no experience who heads to the streets of Savannah, alongside host Ryan Seacrest, to warm up for his audition; and a hopeless romantic who encounters her own fairy tale twist during her audition as she sings from the heart.

The new season promises even more talented hopefuls the judges said at a Q & A this week to discuss the season. Before the panel, an "Idol" showcase featuring three randomly selected season 18 contestants was held.  Last year's winner Laine Hardy, dropped by to perform his new single "Ground I Grew up On," which will be released next month.

"The talent showed up," says Richie of the crop of talent this year when the show kicks off on February 16. The level of talent is there as viewers got to witness in the Sneak Peek promo that played during the Oscars telecast.

"Laine [Hardy, winner season 2] and Alejandro Aranda [runner-up, season 2] have opened the flood gates to authentic talent coming through, said Perry. "It's not a karaoke show by any means. It's literally a fast track mentorship program that everybody's witnessing. And I think true artists and true stars are, are coming out of Idol again.

"The talent is showing up like it's buckets, number one. Number two, I love where we are because it's the university of "American Idol," said Richie. "The quickest, best way to find out what talent really looks like, sounds like...and the attitude they're bringing, more attitudes to the table. In certain cases. But for the most part, it's amazing what's happened this year."

Speaking of attitudes, in the premiere episode, a returning contestant appeared a little too confident in his audition and the judges called him out on it.

Bryan agrees about the talent and is excited to watch the premiere episode with his family. "To watch the backstories of the kids as Katy said earlier, you know, we get to watch the premiere like America gets to watch it and we get to really even fall in love with these contestants and their, their ups and downs in their path to get here. And you're a couple every year we have obviously contestants that you know, struggle and loss of family members and addictions and stuff like that."

The hopefuls came from all across the country as the Idol bus traveled from coast to coast, even making stops in the coaches' hometowns - Tuskegee, Alabama for Richie, Leesburg, Georgia for Bryan, and Santa Barbara, Califonia for Perry. In some instances, Ryan or one of the judges gave them impromptu on the street for instant feedback.

If there is one word to define this season its family. That constant has followed the show throughout its tenure on both Fox and now ABC.

"It's still like one of the only shows where both your grandma and your six-year-old niece can be in the same room," says Perry. "Watching the television show and feeling good and feeling safe and feeling moved and open and you're learning something. I think in some ways that's very rare. I mean, I think there's a lot on the internet and there's a lot on YouTube and there's a lot on different platforms where you're like, 'Oh, can I try it 'or does this access that or what have you. But it's like, it really reminds me of that kind of toy story feeling where like both the adult and the kid are having the greatest time."

"It's completely different than it was, on Fox," continues Perry. "It's, it's got so much heart and storytelling and you know, it is, uh, it's constructive criticism. It's not judgment. There's not meanness. Um, there's not setups. We don't play that game. Like we understand how vulnerable and valuable people's dreams are and mental health and all the things in between. Like we just want to get people to, you know, the finish line as fast as possible."

Catch "American Idol" Sunday, February 16 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.

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