'American Idol' Showrunners Promise Oscars Teaser Didn't Give Away All This Season's Top Talent
The spot was a chance to introduce viewers to 11 singers who all appear in Sunday's premiere -- not the eventual top 10, as some viewers feared.
If you were one of the American Idol superfans who was freaking out Sunday night after watching the glitzy 90-second ad for the upcoming 17th season that aired during the Oscars, worried that the ad spoiled the audition rounds, you can relax.
"That's definitely not true," Melissa King, vice president of creative marketing at ABC tells Billboard about the explosion of social-media posts complaining that the show's new network -- Idol jumped from longtime home Fox to ABC last year -- had ruined everything by revealing the top 10 before the first minute of the season had even aired. "We knew we had to do something big and impactful during the Oscars... but as you might have seen [in our overall marketing campaign], the Idol hopefuls are really the stars of a lot of our spots and we wanted to carry that same theme and make the contestants the stars," says King, adding that "the talent this season is incredible and we wanted people to hear them, but we didn't want to reveal the top 20 or top 14."
The spot was a chance to introduce viewers to 11 singers who all appear in Sunday's season debut -- a reveal that is just one of the ways ABC has pivoted from the more cloistered approach taken by Fox during the show's initial 15-season run. Before last year's reboot on ABC, secrecy was king and the emphasis in pre-season marketing by Fox was a balance of joke auditions, harsh judge putdowns and brief glimpses of potentially promising talent.
"We don't give away at all who got through and who didn't get through... although some of them might get through to the live shows," teases Trish Kinane, an Idol executive producer and showrunner. "We didn't feel like it was a risk." In part, Kinane says the high-gloss ad that spotlighted a wide range of singing styles -- from pop and R&B to rock, folk, soul and death metal -- is an attempt to keep up with the times and the huge changes since the show debuted in 2002. "There was no YouTube or social media then and you could keep secrets like that [in 2002], but now the ability to keep those secrets is long gone, so while we don't want to spoil things for viewers, we felt we could promote the people in episode one without giving too much away," she says.
As it turns out, the timing of the ad was perfect as well, with its use of Queen's buoyant 1979 hit "Don't Stop Me Now" coming on the same night that Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic about the British rock icons, won a best actor Oscar for star Rami Malek, and Idol alum Adam Lambert opened the show with a heart-stopping performance fronting the band. "Everyone knew Boh Rhap was an Oscar contender and Adam Lambert did very well on Idol, but also the song's got such an upbeat, positive vibe and all our contestants on Idol have that vibe and hopefulness about winning," says King.
Plus, the 90-second length gave time for the budding stars to each get enough shine so their personalities and styles could come through loud and clear. "You see them and say, 'I want to see more of them, these people can sing!'" predicts King.
During February's Super Bowl LIII, judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan teased that "maybe one of our new Idol hopefuls will make it to that stage one day very soon," in a reference to Maroon 5's halftime show. King and Kinane, not surprisingly, are equally bullish about the talent this year, emphasizing that as with last season, the spotlight will shine much more brightly on the performers than the all-star judges panel, whose members often pulled attention away from the stage in past seasons with their antics, infighting and cutting insults.
While Idol has established a reputation for spinning off big belters like another Oscar performer, Jennifer Hudson, Kinane says this year, the mix includes a singer/songwriter who is also an "amazing guitarist and pianist" and plenty of others whose compelling stories and personal transformations will play a huge role in the lead-up to the live shows.
"People love getting to know these contestants and their backstories and wanting to root them on, which is what separates Idol from other competition shows," says King, emphasizing that Idol 2.0 will once again put less focus on the laughable, awful singers in deference to telling "emotional, uplifting" tales of strivers looking for their shot.
"We tap into [the judges'] starpower, obviously, but they are really there to help guide and mentor the young singers and use their own journey to guide them along," she says. Kinane adds that her team looked at all the gimmicks and format twists employed on the nearly 50 international Idol editions for ways to goose the U.S. standard-bearer but kept coming back to a simple truism: "It's about talented kids singing in front of judges."
There will be a few new tweaks, including taking the whole production to Hawaii, where you will still see the tension, tears and the joy of the final cuts -- only this time in a lush, tropical resort setting. "Hawaii will be a huge riot of sunshine with an amazing concert on the beach," Kinane promises of the episode before the launch of the live shows. "At that point, the jeopardy increases because we will know much more about the singers' ambitions and why they're there."
Check out the Idol teaser ad below, and tune in to the season 17 premiere on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.