Lionel Richie (L-R), Luke Bryan and Katy Perry return for "American Idol" Season 20. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- American Idol judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie said that Season 20, premiering Sunday on ABC, gave them a new tool to reward their favorite contestants. The new season's platinum ticket is more valuable than the usual golden ticket that wins contestants a spot on Hollywood Week.
Judges Perry, Richie and Luke Bryan have three platinum tickets they can award at auditions in Nashville, Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles. The winner of a platinum ticket can choose any Hollywood Week contestant with whom to perform a duet.
"They get to basically observe from the box seats at the theater," Perry, 37, said on a Television Critics Association Zoom. "One day, they get to rest their voice, strategize, check out the competition, and select who they want a duet with."
In previous seasons, the judges assigned duet partners. So the platinum ticket empowers nine contestants to choose their partner, and confirm a spot on the show.
Richie, 72, said choosing the platinum ticket recipients was instinctual.
"Some people just walk out and they are stars," Richie said. "They have all the boxes ticked - stage presence, delivery, their sound, what's their style, they have it all there."
Perry, Richie and Bryan joined American Idol in its 16th season in 2018, when the singing competition premiered on ABC. The show ran for 15 seasons from 2002 to 2018 on Fox.
Bryan, 45, said another criteria that helps the judges identify potential stars is song selection. Artists should know what kind of song highlights their voice.
"Song selection is key," Bryan said. "It tells us who they are as an artist. It tells us how sharp they are as an artist. It tells us how knowledgeable they are about where they want to take their career."
Perry said she agreed that poor song selection is a dead giveaway. Choosing the wrong song can lead an artist to elimination.
"Some of them say, 'Oh, I'm going to pick an Ariana Grande song' and then they sound nothing like Ariana Grande," Perry said. "If you're going to pick a Whitney song, you kind of want to reinvent it or do it your own way."
The three judges said it was the contestants who attracted them to American Idol. Richie said he'd reached a point in his music career at which he wanted to pass on his experiences to new artists.
"We had to overcome something to get here," Richie said. "So, each one of these kids now, we know what to tell them."
Richie began in the Commodores band before becoming a solo artist with hits like "Hello" and "All Night Long." He said he shares the emotional turmoil of performing and music industry strategies with the contestants.
"Sometimes all they need is a hug just to understand what it's all about," Richie said.
Perry was a teenage gospel singer who became a pop star with her 2008 album, One of the Boys, which included the single "I Kissed a Girl." Perry said in addition to emotional support, it's important to be tough on contestants because she knows the hurdles one must overcome in the music industry.
"We've been in their shoes, but we want to set them up for success," Perry said.
Perry said American Idol is not the first step in anyone's music career. She said she sends contestants home who need to develop more fundamentals before performing on stage and television.
"You can't skip the steps," Perry said. "The one thing for me was probably hearing 'no' so many times and then still betting on myself."
Bryan was a country songwriter for other artists before releasing his 2007's album I'll Stay Me. Bryan said even after making it in Nashville, there are always more steps for an artist to take.
"You move to Nashville," Bryan said. "Then you have to conquer Nashville. Then you have to go get a record deal. That's what so many of these kids don't realize, that the stress never ends."
American Idol airs Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.