The 22nd season of “American Idol” has just begun filming, but the cast and crew have reunited far from the limelight of Hollywood. After what was an eventful summer for each cast member, celebrity judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, along with host Ryan Seacrest, kicked off their sixth season together by meeting up for auditions in Bryan’s hometown of Leesburg, Georgia, in late September.
Then, on October 2, 2023, they popped up again in Tuskegee, Alabama, where Richie attended college and considers his hometown. The cast and crew of “Idol” are expected to film in each of the towns where the show’s stars grew up over the next several weeks.
Here’s what you need to know:
‘American Idol’ Judges’ Visits Revealed in Local News Coverage & Social Media Posts
ABC didn’t widely announce that filming was set to begin, but producers quietly worked with officials in Leesburg, a small town in southern Georgia with about 3,500 residents, to welcome the judges by lining Main Street with fans as they arrived, per WALB News, and to hold a pep rally at Bryan’s alma mater, Lee County High School, on September 19, 2023.
The judges then settled in for their first day of auditions with contestants, for which high school staff and students built the set in the auditorium. It’s not clear if contestants from around the country who made it through virtual auditions were invited to Leesburg or if auditions were just open to locals as a special filming opportunity.
“This season is all about celebrating hometowns,” producer Melissa Elfar told WALB. “We’re starting with our judges and then it goes down to our contestants. So we are really here to learn about all of our contestants, their hometowns, where they come from, and really give people from all across the country a chance at stardom, a chance to make their dreams come true.”
Residents posted videos to social media of Bryan slowly driving a big, black pickup truck down a main road in Leesburg with Perry sitting shotgun and Richie in the backseat. Lee County High School also posted Facebook photos from the judges’ visit, posing for photos with school staff.
On October 2, the cast and crew showed up again in Tuskegee, where Richie attended Tuskegee University and is has been working with Lowe’s to design and build Hello Park across from the college.
WSFA-TV reported that hundreds of fans lined the street to welcome the stars and that the town’s mayor gave Richie a key to the city, proclaiming it “Lionel Richie Day.” With Bryan and Perry by his side, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tree planting in the new park, too.
Idol Spoilers, which has a history of revealing insider information on the show, tweeted on September 27 that the judges will be present for auditions in five different hometowns, marking the first time since season 18, before the pandemic, that auditions have been filmed in that many locations.
‘American Idol’ Cast Has Had an Eventful Summer
Bryan, Perry, Richie and Seacrest have all had newsworthy summers since last being together for the “American Idol” season finale in May.
Richie kicked off his first concert tour in several years, starting with a European tour at huge outdoor venues and then teaming up with classic R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire for a U.S. tour that attracted sold out crowds and lots of celebrity guests.
Perry took lots of vacation days, hitting the road with her fiancé Orlando Bloom and their three-year-old daughter Daisy Dove. They were spotted in Croatia with celebrity friends including Usher and Jeff Bezos, swimming in St. Tropez, and catching a Bruce Springsteen concert in London. But Perry also performed multiple concerts in Las Vegas for her residency there, which wraps up this fall, she told “Good Morning America,” and she signed a deal to sell the rights to her music catalog for $225 million.
Bryan was on the road much of the summer, too, with his U.S. concert tour and, in recent weeks, his annual Farm Tour. However, he had a rough August, having to cancel five shows in August due to an ongoing illness and, in September, his final Farm Tour show in Minnesota had to be canceled due to bad weather, according to WCCO-TV.
Meanwhile, in late June, Seacrest made headlines for agreeing to take over hosting duties on long-running game show “Wheel of Fortune,” beginning in 2024 after Pat Sajak’s retirement. He also opened his 12th and 13th Seacrest Studios at children’s hospitals in Memphis and Queens, New York, as well as spending plenty of downtime with his girlfriend Aubrey Paige, who posted on August 31 about their “summer of street markets, road trips, local artists and movie nights.”
“American Idol” wraps up its virtual auditions on October 11, with in-person auditions likely completed a few weeks after that, if past seasons are any indication. Season 22 is expected to begin airing in early 2024.