The popular talent search rolls on for a 19th season of musical highs and lows

As the show already proved last year, it takes more than a pandemic to stop American Idol.

The venerable singing competition made necessary adjustments during the then-emerging health crisis, and many practices put in place then—including more performances from contestants’ homes—will continue as the former Fox series begins its fourth ABC season (and 19th overall) this weekend. Ryan Seacrest continues his hosting duties, with Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie still comprising the judges’ panel, and Bobby Bones back as mentor to the entrants.

American IdolABC“We’ve taped the auditions in different cities around California, and we’ve already taped ‘Hollywood Week’ at the Dolby Theatre,” Seacrest reports. “We were so excited to bring the show back to a place that looked normal like it did in the seasons before, when it was on a set or a stage and doing auditions in different parts of the country.”

Still, the multi-hyphenate acknowledges that many health-related rules remain: “We’re shooting within these bubbles and restrictions and checkpoints and guidelines, but once we get through all that and the cameras start, it looks like the Idol of the earlier years since it’s been on ABC. And I’m happy for that.”

Seacrest notes that in making Idol’s 2020 edition, “It was so difficult not to be able to hug a kid or give someone a handshake or let a father pick me up and put me on his shoulders... all the fun things we get to do in the auditions. I realized, in my role as host, how much I rely on that kind of connection. It was tricky to not be able to do that.”

Idol1ABCHowever, having consistency with the same judges has “made life good,” adds Seacrest, “to have the great team together that knows how to do this. Luke, Lionel and Katy are just so good at uncovering talent. They obviously would be, but I can see a difference between their first season and this season. They’re identifying and nurturing talent that has breakout potential, really taking the time to help them along.”

As usual, American Idol is just part of a packed schedule for Seacrest that also encompasses his weekday work on the syndicated, high-rated Live With Kelly and Ryan and his national radio show On Air With Ryan Seacrest. He’s glad Idol has maintained its place in the ever-expanding world of reality television.

“It was the first of its kind when these shows were breaking through and garner audiences of tens of millions,” he recalls. “And you can go down the list of [Idol alumni] who have been or are being played on the radio, and I think there’s something significant to that validity.”

American Idol airs Sundays, 8 p.m., City & ABC