Adult Contemporary

As ‘American Idol’ returns for season 20, Lionel Richie says it’s still delivering “talent that goes on to have careers”

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ABC/Gavin Bond

The 20th — yes, the 20th — season of American Idol premieres Sunday night on ABC.  While other singing competitions have come and gone since Idol premiered in 2002, judge Lionel Richie says there’s one thing that continues to makes it the gold standard.

“Don’t get me wrong…there’s talent on other shows, but I’m talking about talent that goes on to have careers,” he says. “That’s serious. And so what I love about this is, very clearly, we are looking for the stars of tomorrow, and that’s what American Idol delivers. Twenty years later, we’re still doing it.”

Lionel, who describes himself as the “wise old bird” of the judging panel, says there’s one thing that he and fellow judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan look for in contestants above all else.

“You have to get our attention…the first time you open your mouth,” he explains. “Is that voice of yours identifiable? Because that’s how it works when you listen to music.” He adds, “Instant identity is everything.”

Katy Perry, meanwhile, tells ABC News that this season the contestants are “really going for it,” adding that the talent “just continues to get more legit.”  She notes, “I think [it’s because] every season people are tuning in, especially singer-songwriters and real artists…and they’re seeing other real artists…trying out.”

Katy adds, “People are having success, they’re changing their lives…they’re getting awards nominations — [Season 16 runner-up] Gabby Barrett, she’s massive now. So it feels good that there’s still stars coming out [of the show].”

And host Ryan Seacrest, who’s been there for all 20 years, tells ABC Audio, “I think this franchise has another two decades ahead of it…it’s still a wonderful premise…so I’m excited that we’re still going strong.”

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