Lionel Richie Admits ‘American Idol’ Judges Are ‘Not Looking For Singers’

Lionel Richie

Heavy/ABC "American Idol" judge Lionel Richie

Though “American Idol” judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan critique and deliberate about the singing skills of all the “Idol” hopefuls who audition for them, Richie just admitted they’re not really looking for the best singers.

During an appearance on “Live With Kelly and Mark” on March 1, 2024, the music legend told hosts Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, “We’re not looking for singers. We’re looking for stylists.”

That distinction may come as a surprise to casual fans of the show, but since ABC rebooted “Idol” in 2018, the judges have set their sights on finding unique artists who they believe have what it takes to become the kind of musician others idolize.

That requires more than just listening to them sing, Richie said, and means the judges sometimes have to send people home that do have incredible voices.

Here’s what you need to know:

Lionel Richie Says He Wants ‘American Idol’ Hopefuls to ‘Bring Me the Artist’

Unlike on “The Voice,” where celebrity coaches focus on contestants’ singing skills without seeing how they look and act, “American Idol” aims to find what producer Megan Michaels calls the “full package” from the get-go, according to Talent Recap.

“I walk in with an open mind,” Richie said on a recent episode about the audition process. “If they can bring me the artist, which means the voice matches the personality matches the intrigue, then we have a person going to the next round.”

That’s one of the reasons the show focuses so heavily on contestants’ back stories, because the judges learn about the people, see their personalities on display, and can tell more if they have what it takes to become a star, host Ryan Seacrest recently told Parade.

He said the show keeps attracting “contestants who are true visionaries, singers, songwriters; contestants who have a point of view about who they are and what they want to be and the stories they want to tell.”

But that also means the judges’ ultimate choices don’t always align with what viewers at home want, Richie acknowledged on “Live With Kelly and Mark.”

He said, “Let me tell you what we’re looking for, because a lot of people have said, ‘Oh my god, why did you throw that person off the show? They can sing!’ And my answer is, ‘No, we’re not looking for singers. We’re looking for stylists.'”

“What happens…in five seconds, you know that’s Whitney Houston. Five seconds, you know that’s Bruce Springsteen. So just because you can sing, that’s called karaoke. I want someone who you can close your eyes and go, ‘Jennifer Hudson! Kelly Clarkson!’ You just know that is who that is.”

“And again, we’ve been criticized many times with, ‘Oh my god, what were you thinking?’ But the unusual person is the one that’s gonna break through,” he added.

Lionel Richie Changed His Mind About Unique Contestant Jack Blocker

Richie nearly turned one of those “unusual” contestants away on the February 18 episode of “American Idol,” but changed his mind when the show’s crew questioned why 25-year-old graphic artist Jack Blocker had been rejected.

The Dallas singer-songwriter performed his own song, “I Was Wrong,” for the judges, complete with lots of exaggerated facial movements that rubbed Perry the wrong way.

Saying that he should relax and take note of his facial expressions, Perry told Blocker, “For ‘Idol,’ I’m a no, but I admire your artistry.”

Bryan gave Blocker a “yes” vote but then Richie gave him a “no,” meaning he couldn’t go through to Hollywood, which shocked the country star.

“I saw something in that boy,” Bryan exclaimed. “Y’all let him go!”

He then asked the behind-the-scenes crew who would have voted Blocker through and nearly all of them raised their hands. Even Perry’s personal team asked her what she was thinking kicking the singer to the curb. When Richie saw their reactions, he asked if they could bring Blocker back for a first-ever vote reversal.

“Everybody can’t be wrong about Jack, ” he then told Blocker. “I’m gonna change my vote. It’s a yes, Jack.”

After his audition aired, Blocker posted an Instagram photo of himself with his golden ticket and wrote, “I think they gave me this thing for real??? Thanks @americanidol for letting me sing a little longer on your show! Hoping a trip to Hollywood can help me mend things with @katyperry”

Season 22 of “American Idol” airs Sunday nights on ABC.

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