Before Katy Perry's farewell season of 'American Idol,' judges spill show secrets (2024)

KiMi RobinsonUSA TODAY

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – In what very well might be Katy Perry’s final “American Idol” run, fellow judge Luke Bryan promises ABC's singing competition's judges are “having as much fun this season as we had Year One for us.”

With seven years of experience as a trio, Perry, Bryan and Lionel Richie might have gotten too comfortable with each other as they’re taping early rounds of Season 22, premiering Sunday (8 EST/PST).

“We can actually say things to each other and not take it personal,” Richie tells USA TODAY on set in December as they taped the "showstoppers" round. “The first season, we were all kind of tiptoeing around, (making) sure ‘I don’t want to offend you. You don’t want to offend me.’”

Perry quickly follows up, divulging, “I think the only person that talks to Lionel like I do is his daughter.”

The group – which includes longtime host and “Idol” “historian” Ryan Seacrest – constantly bounces off each other, sometimes finishing each other’s thoughts mid-sentence. Sure, they’re accustomed to hamming things up for the cameras, but speaking with them feels as if one had accidentally walked into their friendly porch hangout.

Bryan confirms they “don't have any parameters when we leave the set. We like to check up on everybody,” he says, adding that he's “always hitting these three up” in a group text chat for recommendations while traveling.

“Ryan and I are the concierge,” Perry jokes.

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‘Idol’ judges still second-guess themselves

The three singers, music industry giants in their own right, get to know each other a little better this season as they kick off “Idol’s” nationwide search for the country’s next singing sensation by going back to their roots.

In Sunday's premiere, the judges remind us that even the biggest stars had to start somewhere when they pay visits to each other’s hometowns: Leesburg, Georgia (Bryan); Tuskegee, Alabama (Richie) and Santa Barbara, California (Perry).

They don’t seem to need any reminding, however, of their responsibility for nurturing up-and-coming talent as young as 15 each season.

“We’ll even leave the show for the evening and play it back in our heads (and wonder), ‘Was that the right decision? Did I throw the baby out with the bath water?’” Richie says. “It lingers for a while.”

Bryan adds: “We're dealing with kids' lives and dreams, and we want to respect that. We’ve all been told ‘no’ multiple times in our career. It’s part of the process. (But) don’t let that dictate how you want to go be an artist; let it motivate you to be better.”

Before Katy Perry's farewell season of 'American Idol,' judges spill show secrets (3)

Before Katy Perry's farewell season of 'American Idol,' judges spill show secrets (4)

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The judges check on previous seasons’ contestants ‘all the time’ on social media

Perry says the judges still think about the talent they work with long after a season wraps.

“I look them up on Instagram all the time,” she reveals. “Some of them get this big shot and momentum, and then some of them just gradually grow. And then all of a sudden, like three years later, they're really tracking in the real world. It's fun to watch them grow. And not a lot, but a few of the contestants have our (phone) numbers. We like to mentor them off on the side; we really care.”

Bryan admits to partaking in an occasional Instagram perusal of previous contestants.

“'Idol' is a springboard, a great springboard, to put them to another level in their career,” he says. “So it's always fun to follow up and see where they're at.”

Would ‘American Idol’ open up to older contestants someday?

Season after season, the judges meet hundreds of “Idol” hopefuls from a variety of backgrounds, but almost all of them are on the younger side.

The show has long kept a tight rein on the age range – you have to be 15 to 28 while auditioning. But would “Idol” ever consider moving in the same direction as fellow ABC series “Golden Bachelorette?”

“Never say never,” Seacrest says to a possible “Golden Idol.” “I’m happy to host.”

Richie agrees there’s a blind spot in their casting.

“I know (actors) who did not make it in their 20s and 30s. They made in their 40s and 50s because they finally realized … from Hollywood's point of view, the character is what we need, that new, older character,” he says. “Singing is the same way. Sometimes there are so many people who are so qualified and ready to go at 40 and 50. We just completely missed them altogether.”

Before Katy Perry's farewell season of 'American Idol,' judges spill show secrets (2024)
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