IDOL: What to expect from the new season
BY Stanislav Kimchev
After a brief spell off the screen, American Idol is all set for a major, and arguably the most awaited, comeback of the year on American television. This time, the show will be aired on ABC after 15 seasons on FOX. Stanislav Kimchev talked with Trish Kinane, American Idol executive producer and President of Entertainment Programming at FremantleMedia North America, about the expectations and preparations for the new season which will start on March 11.
Trish, when American Idol came to a close on Fox after 15 seasons, you said “I don’t think this is the end”. You were right. What was your first reaction when it became clear that ABC will be reviving the format?
Idol is a classic format and I always knew it would return. Talented contestants looking for a way to make their dreams come true will always entice viewers, and we were delighted to find the right home for the new Idol with ABC. The viewer profile of that network is a close match with the Idol viewer profile, and ABC really understands the value of great talent mixed with great stories - we are excited about the collaboration.

There have been numerous singing shows in the States but Idol proved to be the most resilient, most watched, star-power generating, not to mention the longest running. What are the key elements of the format that make it so popular and set it apart from similar shows?
Idol has always been, first and foremost, about the contestants. It’s a real Cinderella story of talented kids from nowhere having their lives transformed over the course of a few months by taking part in the show. It’s a simple format with no gimmicks and it’s really compelling to watch these transformations.

Also, Idol was the first show to embrace the technology which enabled viewers to vote, thereby giving them a real investment in the subsequent career of the winners. That’s why Idol has produced superstars like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood - viewers feel part of their ongoing success.

Country music superstar Luke Bryan and music icon Lionel Richie joined Katy Perry who was the first announced member of Idol’s new panel of judges. Was it difficult to find the right people for the job and what were the main qualities you were looking for in them?
We took our time to put the new panel together in order to get the right mix of artists and to ensure there was chemistry between them. Viewers expect our judges to have credibility and experience, they have to be entertaining to watch and they must have a genuine desire to help discover and nurture new talent. The judges also have to be honest - they don’t always have to agree with each other but they have to give good, useful advice born out of their own experience as an artist. Viewers pick up on it very quickly if there is anything fake or contrived. They like warm, entertaining, credible judges who really care for the contestants.

Who will be the Simon Cowell of the season, i.e. the “bad guy”? Did you also consider some of the big names that came out of the show for judging roles?
There isn’t a “bad guy” on the panel – that would be too contrived. But our judges are very outspoken, honest and forthright in their opinions. They want to help the contestants and give them good advice, but they don’t want to give them false hope if they really don’t have what it takes.

We considered a huge array of talent for our judging panel including some from our Idol family, but you can’t select the judges in isolation - it’s all about the right mix and chemistry and, judging by the fun our panel has been having during auditions, we have a great team.

Tell us a little bit more about the auditions tour which launched in August and wrapped up in November. How would you rate the talent this year, compared to previous seasons of the show?
An important part of American Idol is that we try to make it easy for the contestants to audition. Many kids can’t afford to travel long distances to get to us, and so, in addition to online auditions and showcases, we have Idol audition buses which travelled to 23 stops all over the USA looking for fresh talent.

We also take our judges round the country to audition the talent and by doing that, we find raw, undiscovered kids with amazing voices.

Interestingly, I think the year off screen has helped us with the talent. We have had people turn up in good numbers and the talent is great. We have also found kids who have just turned 15 (our younger age limit) who were upset when they thought they had missed the chance to take part in the show and were happy we were coming back so they could get their shot.

With so many talent shows throughout the years and also living in our digital age, with so many platforms, isn’t it more difficult to find new talent now the “old-fashioned” way – showcasing them on TV?
Idol has produced superstars, so this is the show contestants want to be part of. We totally embrace social media and engage the audience off screen using every means at our disposal to find new talent, including holding auditions on and online as well as in traditional venues. There’s a constant supply of new voices wanting to be heard and they are keen to take advantage of the unique training that the Idol experience gives them so that they can fulfill their dreams.

What will be the main elements of the show from previous seasons that you would like to keep and what will be the novelties for the new season on ABC?
Great talent, great story telling and great passion from the production team and judges will inform every aspect of the new series. Idol on ABC will be true to the values the show has always had. We are not embracing gimmicks or making changes for the sake of it but we have refreshed many of the familiar elements and there will be new surprises in store.

What is the right mix, the right recipe for the longevity of talent formats that keeps viewers glued to the TV screens?
Viewers will always find the search for talent and the contestants’ stories relevant and appealing and these big talent shows are brands that live in viewers affections for a long time. But it’s our job as producers to find new ways of telling these stories and engaging the viewers. The Idol format really took off when mass phone and text voting became easy and I think the emergence of some sort of new technology will be key to the future reinvention of the genre. ▪
TRISH KINANE serves as President of Entertainment Programming for FremantleMedia North America, and previously, Kinane was President, Worldwide Entertainment for FremantleMedia. In her roles, she has overseen the global roll-out of FremantleMedia’s developed and acquired non-scripted formats. Currently, Kinane also serves as Executive Producer of America’s Got Talent and returning American Idol. During her career, Kinane was a producer at Granada Television where she produced many music programs. She was also Controller of Entertainment and Children’s programs at U.K. broadcaster, Tyne Tees Television.
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