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Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan Will be Kinder, Gentler ‘American Idol’ Judges

After nearly an 18-month hiatus since its “final” show last April on Fox, “American Idol” is coming back to television this spring, on ABC, and the new “Idol” crew has been traveling the country taping auditions – both with and without judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. But the triumvirate was complete in Hollywood, Calif. Thursday evening to kick off the first season of the new version of the former Fox reality giant after ABC’s corporate partner Disney announced it will release the finalists’ album on its Hollywood Records label.

When asked which of the three would take the role of Simon Cowell, the trio immediately chimed in that none of them would.

“We’re artists, not record company executives or critics,” insisted Luke Bryan to Variety. “These 15- and 16 year-olds are still a couple of years away, but you can see their promise, the potential. We’re not there to discourage them. If we word it wrong, they may give up all up.”

Perry agreed, adding that they are “about giving constructive criticism.” Though she still admitted the acerbic Cowell is her favorite judge, she noted that the sensitive nature not only of the youth of contestants but of today’s cultural in general will be reflected in the show. “Young kids take things to heart. I can be sarcastic as all get out, and even a little snarky,” she said. “Like Simon, I’m also a truth-teller, a straight shooter. But at the end of the day, I’m not here to tell anyone they suck. It’s not about that.”

Richie noted that though the trio are judges, they are also producers, and that factors into how they will talk to the talent on the show. “Imagine I’m producing Diana Ross. I will tell her just enough truth to inspire her to give me more in the studio,” he explained.

Whether or not “American Idol” can recapture the zeitgeist with a new iteration in a world where any kid with an iPhone or laptop can upload his or her performance to YouTube and overnight turn into a viral sensation will remain to be seen. But perhaps because of new technology, the abundance of emerging artists is stronger than ever.

“The show is coming back at a perfect time,” insisted Perry. “There’s just too much choice out there. You don’t know who to focus on.”

Richie, who Perry has jokingly dubbed “the dad-slash-chaperone” of the group added that the show “is like a filter where only the strong survive.” He noted that if he had to go through the process “Idol” contestants embark upon with rounds of auditions and live shows, he “would have fainted on the spot. “I was so shy as a 15-year-old. I didn’t have the confidence to walk out on that stage and do what these kids do,” he shared.

Richie says that the “Idol” regimen is reminiscent of the heyday of Berry Gordy’s Motown assembly line, “but not quite as brutal. They wouldn’t invite you in the front door without a hint of something brilliant.”

Meanwhile, Bryan has been inspired by the audition process to up his own game. “We’ll tell these contestants to give us all they’ve got, and then I find myself asking myself the same thing. When you hear that God has laid his hand on these people’s voices, it makes you want to go out and be a better artist yourself.”

“American Idol” premieres Mar. 11 on ABC.

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