"It doesn't feel comfortable to put borderline unstable people up on stage and laugh at them," says showrunner Trish Kinane.
"American Idol" is finally growing up with its switch to ABC for Season 16, at the expense of a fan-favorite element: terrible auditions.
All four members of the "Idol" team, including returning host Ryan Seacrest, came together to discuss the revival during a TCA panel Monday, and weighed in an all the changes, like no longer exploiting terrible, fame-hungry singers for your entertainment. So don't expect another William Hung to emerge when "Idol" returns this March.
In the age of daily national outrage easily categorized by trending Twitter hashtags, it probably is wise to avoid being accused of exploiting naive wannabe singers, but the so-bad-they're-good auditions were a hallmark of the singing competition we're sure a number of fans will miss.
The new judging panel of Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie are also committed to fulfilling the core mission of the show that was evident in its original subtitle, "The Search for a Superstar." Despite the star wattage on the stage, they think of themselves as secondary to the mission and to the contestants.
Below are some of the highlights from their discussion, starting with why they're axing so-bad-they're-good auditions.
No More Bad Auditions
"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," said showrunner Trish Kinane. "We want the humor, but we don't want the exploitation."
With audiences having a better understanding of the faux reality behind most of their favorite reality series, they quickly began to feel manipulated by producers. Rather than laugh as intended, audiences think of how cruel it is for producers to send hopefuls to the judges for the sole purpose of them getting torn down for entertainment.
Kinane further elaborated on the reboot's decision by saying, "It doesn't feel comfortable to put borderline unstable people up on stage and laugh at them."
"Idol" Providing a Focus
The panel thinks now is the right time for an "American Idol" revival because of how fractured the entertainment landscape is. Yes, anyone can upload a video to YouTube or Instagram, but that's not enough to get noticed anymore. "These days you have to light yourself on fire on Instagram while singing and still might not get enough hits," Perry said.
"There’s just too much choice out there. You don’t know who to focus on," she told Variety.
It is the show's hope and belief that their platform will allow fans to focus their attention on the most worthy artists by inviting the best of the best onto their stage.
The Goal Is Still to Find a Star
Whereas most singing competition shows have kind of given up on the notion of banking a legitimate music star like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood from the original "Idol" run, it's still very much a part of the makeup of this revival. Part of the reason shows like "The Voice" don't focus on it as much may simply be because they've failed to find one.
But this judging panel has a very strong opinion about it. "Literally, we are wasting our time if we are not finding another star," said Katy Perry, as reported by Deadline. "I take it very seriously, sometimes to my detriment."
The panel was disappointed that no one could really name anyone from the later seasons of the original run. " We want it to go right back to what it was known for," said Luke Bryan.
There Is No Mean Judge
It looks like this will be a kinder and gentler "American Idol" all around, with the judges thinking of themselves as "secondary" to finding the next American Idol; a change from most competition shows and even later seasons of "Idol's" original run. Even Ryan Seacrest hinted that the show lost its focus in those latter years with judge selections, probably trying to compete with the star power on "The Voice."
But that doesn't mean they were looking to replicate the original formula, when Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul made up the judging panel. For one thing, no one is looking to be the "mean judge," as Cowell was called. Katy Perry laughed, "I'm blunt, but I can’t be mean because I’m a woman."
For this panel, it's about constructive criticism. Luke Bryan told Variety that they were looking at the potential and promise of these young contestants. "We’re not there to discourage them. If we word it wrong, they may give it all up."