'American Idol' Alums Returning in Season 20 to Mentor Hopefuls, Producer Reveals

American Idol
Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images

Find out which alums Ryan Seacrest would like to see back on the 'Idol' stage.

As American Idol readies its milestone 20th season, it will be without mentor Bobby Bones, who confirmed his exit late last year. The creative team behind Idol revealed Wednesday that there are no plans to formally replace him. Instead, they'll be going to their Rolodex of familiar faces from the show's past to fill the void throughout the upcoming season.

"Bobby is always going to be a member of the Idol family and we love Bobby so much. He's done so much for us in our era on ABC. There's not anyone to replace Bobby per se but this year we will be leaning into our amazing American Idol university alum to help our current idols along the way in different stages of the competition," executive producer Megan Wolflick told reporters during the virtual Television Critics Association winter press tour.

"So a lot of those familiar faces who America has grown to love will be seen throughout the season and we're very, very excited. And our alums are excited to be back," she teased.

Longtime host Ryan Seacrest, who is also a producer, shared later during the panel that he would like to reunite with every former Idol contestant that has come through in the past two decades. He specifically singled out Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood as alums he'd like to see back on the Idol stage at some point in the new season.

"I want to see every one of those contestants come back," he said. "I want to see, way back to the beginning. I just remember the moment with Clay and Ruben that we talk about all the time. I want to see Carrie again. I love seeing Jennifer Hudson. For me, I can remember literally standing next to them looking at their faces and their reactions in moments of success and in moments of challenge."

The new trailer for the season, which dropped earlier Wednesday afternoon, hinted at the upgraded Platinum Ticket, which allows the lucky few recipients -- one in each of the three audition cities: Los Angeles, Nashville and Austin -- a trip to Hollywood Week and a leg up on the competition.

"We've got three Platinum Tickets. We were able to go and visit three cities... But at each place, there were three reserved Platinum Tickets because if you've been together for 20 years, or married, platinum is the key," judge Katy Perry shared. "But we identify the best talent in each place and we basically give them this ticket. Usually our tickets are gold and so this ticket gives them the ability to go to Hollywood Week, which we already filmed and was so rigorous and survival of the fittest. And they get to basically observe from the box seats at the theater one day. They get to rest their voice, strategize, check out the competition and select who they want to duet with. Usually it's either they get to select in seasons past or lately we've been selecting who they duet with. These three ticket holders, they get to select. So they get a tiny advantage just because they're the cream of the crop."

For fellow judge Lionel Richie, it was easy picking out who the Platinum Ticket holders would be.

"It was the fact that they were just naturals, you know what I mean? Some people just walk out and they are stars. They have all the boxes ticked: stage presence, delivery, their sound, their style, they have it all there," he said. "So when they open their mouths, you know exactly who they are as an artist. It just rings that bell. When that happens you give them the Platinum Ticket as fast as you can."

"They're better than us, let's just say that!" Perry joked.

Seacrest also reflected on the significance of hitting 20 seasons of Idol, acknowledging that it's been "impactful."

"To look back at all of those moments and see some contestants when they first met us on the road and see the time that has gone by and the success they have had is impactful. It's pretty incredible. I got emotional watching some of those great moments," he said. "And I think back to the beginning of the show. When we started, it was a pop and more personality-driven show. It's navigated to become a very heartfelt, human and artist-driven show because of what the artists have done. And I think they've done that deliberately and that's what you're seeing with these artists who may never have auditioned for American Idol in the past. I think that we can audition on a computer allows us to tap into talent who have never sung in front of human beings before. But yet can make it to the next level with these three superstar judges."

American Idol premieres Sunday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. For more, watch below.

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