American Idol is headed back to television on April 26, but when it returns it will have a new twist – the contestants will be required to film themselves at home using iPhones.
American Idol, like most other television shows, shut down production when the COVID-19 pandemic forced social-distancing. As the show is unusually audience-centric, plans initially were to delay the show until social distancing restrictions had been lifted.
Producers even considered a virtual audience, made up of Disney characters. (Disney owns ABC, the network that carries the show.) Finally, the show decided to get truly creative.
American Idol show-runner Trish Kinane, who is also the president of Entertainment Programming for FremantleMedia, and a team of nearly 45 people began working on a way to do the show remotely. They came up with a solution that involves sending contestants wardrobe, lighting equipment, and the latest model iPhones (likely an iPhone 11 Pro Max) – contestants will film their performance themselves.
The American Idol band has been remotely recording tracks for the “Idols” performances, while producers have confirmed the contestants’ internet connections can handle the stress, and contestants are scouting out remote filming locations.
“These are kids who are really used to iPhone technology, they are really familiar with it and use it every day. In the end, we decided rather than send them some complicated camera that you really need a camera operator to use, we would go with the technology that they’re familiar with,” Kinane told Deadline.
“These top of the range iPhones are amazing. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were using iPhones in the studio in the future,” she added.
ABC’s Senior Vice President Rob Mills told Deadline that ABC was now working with Apple to continue the show.
“We are blessed to live in a day and age where we have the technology, even if this had happened five years ago, I don’t know if it would be possible,” he said. “There is a real can-do spirit here that is exciting and exhausting, it’s been fun to figure it out.”
The show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest with judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie as well as mentor Bobby Bones, returns with a two-hour episode on Sunday, April 26. The judges will also be filming remotely, while Seacrest will act as an anchor for the show.
Seacrest will use an “American Idol” desk he received as a present after the show ended on Fox as a point to host the show from.
“We need a home base to come back to. You don’t want it to be chaotic. Ryan is home base, everything goes through him for the live shows,” Kinane said. “Ryan is going to behind an American Idol desk to host the show. It’s been packed up for three and a half years but now its moment has come.”