Keith Urban Returning to ‘American Idol’

Keith Urban

Heavy/Getty Keith Urban will return to "American Idol" on May 21, 2023

For the first time since he was a judge on “American Idol,” country superstar Keith Urban will return to the popular series. During the week leading up to a three-hour Season 21 finale on May 21, 2023, Urban will serve as a guest mentor to the Top 3 contestants and then perform live on the star-studded finale.

As soon as “Idol” announced the news on May 12, Urban shared it in his Instagram Stories and wrote, “Heading back to American Idol next week !!!!!” Here’s what you need to know:

Keith Urban is One of Multiple ‘Idol’ Alumni Featured on the Show This Season

Keith Urban

GettyKeith Urban at the ACM Awards on May 11, 2023

During the week leading up to the May 21 finale, Urban will provide guidance to the top three contestants on their performances, according to Billboard. He will also perform his 2022 hit “Wild Hearts” during the three-hour finale, which will also feature other celebrity performers to be announced soon.

Even though “Idol” now airs on a different network than when Urban appeared on the show, executive producer and showrunner Megan Michaels Wolflick told Billboard in March that everyone who’s been part of the show’s various iterations is considered part of the “Idol” family. The series has increasingly embraced leveraging and showcasing past “Idol” contestants and judges on the show.

“If you come on the show, you’re part of the ‘American Idol’ alumni,” she said. “You are part of our history. This show has changed lives in so many different ways.”

Season 21 has included many past “Idol” alumni providing mentorship to current contestants. During Hollywood Week, for instance, seven past contestants returned to mentor the “Idol” hopefuls in three different categories — confidence, songwriting, or stage presence.

The returning finalists that week were Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini, Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken, Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks, Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta, Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, Season 16 top-seven finisher Catie Turner, and the most recent “American Idol” winner, Season 20’s Noah Thompson.

The 2023 season has also included a week of mentorship from Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert and a cameo by “Idol” alum Lauren Daigle, who surprised current Top 5 contestant and fan Megan Danielle when she first auditioned.

Keith Urban Reached Out to Luke Bryan When He Was Named a New ‘American Idol’ Judge

Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban

GettyHarry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban on FOX’s “American Idol” Finale in April 2016

Urban judged “American Idol” for four years, from Seasons 12 through 15, up until its final episode on FOX in April 2016, according to Fandom. He had numerous co-stars at the judging table with him. During Season 12, he teamed up with original “Idol” judge Randy Jackson, as well as Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, who butt heads throughout the season, as chronicled by MTV. 

Urban was the only judge to stay for the next season. He was joined by pop star and actress Jennifer Lopez — who had previously judged Seasons 10 and 11 — and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler. That threesome judged the last three seasons of “Idol” during its run on FOX.

When ABC announced in 2017 that it was rebooting “Idol” Urban was open to returning but later said he’d learned they were hiring an all-new judging panel — Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and his country music friend, Luke Bryan. Urban has periodically served as a judge the Australian version of “The Voice,” but decided to step away from that series in 2023 to make more time for touring, recording and his family, according to Music Mayhem. 

In 2018, as Bryan was just beginning his journey as a judge, he told E! News that Urban had texted him when he heard the news.

He said, “Keith sent me a text message going, ‘Congrats! You’re gonna love it.’ And thus far, he was right. With every new contestant who walks in, it’s like a Christmas present!”

This past week, the remaining Top 5 contestants — Danielle, Colin Stough, Iam Tongi, Wé Ani, and Zachariah Smith — have been mentored by actress and singer Sofia Carson at Disneyland in preparation for the show’s annual Disney Week.

On May 14, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time, they will perform Disney songs while viewers vote live to narrow the competition down to the Top 3. ABC has also said the episode will include performances by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and “The Little Mermaid” star Halle Bailey.