'American Idol' Judges Promise Talent Is 'Next Level' This Season

American Idol returns on Sunday, March 3, for its 17th season, with Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry each returning to the judges' table for their second time. Although they were all proud of the talent last year, they promise it gets even better this time around.

"I think one of the most important things is that we feel like the talent is really, really next-level stuff," Bryan told ABC News Radio. "And we feel like we have people that walk out, that they're not just walking out and they're just singing, they truly have stories to tell."

"They're true artists," he continued. "And they're so good, they just, even help legitimize our show so much more when we have extremely talented kids on the show."

Richie echoed Bryan's sentiments, promising this season might be the best pool of talent Idol has ever seen.

"If you thought last year had talent, Oh. My. God!" Richie stated. "They came out of the woodwork! I think the kids actually saw the first [season] and realized, okay, we not only give great advice, but on top of that, we're having a lot of fun ... and we're not so scary!"

The 69-year-old is just as drawn to the stories the contestants share, as he is to their singing voice.

"I was gonna be the toughest guy on the planet, but they're bringing some of the greatest stories," Richie promised. "Once you find out what these kids are trying to overcome, it's, 'How do they get up in the morning, considering what they're carrying?' They are facing their worst nightmares. And then they say, 'But...I can be the greatest singer in the whole world!'"

Perry signed on to American Idol not only to help young singers get their career off the ground, but also to invest in the lives of the aspiring stars.

"To be able to pay it forward by caring ... I care so much about these kids," Perry said. "I mean, I'm just so encouraged by these kids. And it makes me feel like a good person while doing it, so I love it!"

With one full season under their belt, Bryan believes people will understand why the three judges, and host Ryan Seacrest, remain committed to the show.

"I think last season was kind of everybody's training ground," Bryan admitted. "It was a new network, new judges. The first year, you know, maybe all of America would've been somewhat reluctant to fully jump on board. But I think what I noticed is as the show caught its stride, and we got into live shows, me and Lionel and Katy and even Ryan, we just started really having fun with the show."


Season 17 of American Idol premieres on Sunday, March 3, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Photo Credit: Eric McCandless / Contributor, Getty