American Idol is returning Sunday night with a new episode tonight. Typically, the start of the Top 20 live shows would not be a major historic event, but this year it is due to the coronavirus pandemic. ABC is trying out a completely remote episode, with contestants, the judges and host Ryan Seacrest contributing from more than 40 different locations. The show will start Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
"Top 20 Sing For America" is the first all-new episode since April 5, when the second part of the previously taped Hawaii showcase episodes aired. In the interim, ABC aired clip shows on April 12 and April 19 to give producers ample time to figure out their next move. Local ABC affiliates are available to stream on Internet TV platforms like Hulu Plus Live TV, Fubo, Sling and YouTube TV. ABC is also available to stream at ABC.com in select markets with cable or satellite accounts.
On April 19, ABC felt comfortable with unveiling the plan, which involves Seacrest hosting from home with judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan contributing from their homes. The Top 20 contestants will also perform remotely, and mentor Bobby Bones will be involved as well. "I think we're about 45 different locations that we’re producing the show from now, remotely," Idol showrunner Trish Kinane, who serves as the president of Idol production company Fremantle, told Variety. "So it's quite an operation."
The outlet reported the new episodes will be "live to tape," so producers have a few moments to edit the show into something ABC can air, and to also help the contestants if any of their cameras fail. After this week's episode, there will only be three more shows. During next week's episode, the field will be halved.
"Four weeks is the right amount of time for these people to perform," ABC alternative series senior VP Rob Mills told Variety. "It's going to be more cutthroat because you’re going to see more people eliminated each week than normal. So there is going to be less room for error. And I think that will make it more exciting."
The episode will also feature an old favorite for longtime Idol fans. Last week, Seacrest revealed that he dug out the original judges' desk used by Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson during the show's early years. "Kept this in my garage for over 3 years in case of an emergency," Seacrest revealed on Instagram. "The time has come.... [American Idol] is going to be HISTORIC on so many levels. We're broadcasting from 25 different locations - don't miss an all-new show this Sunday at 8/7c on ABC!"
Despite the unusual circumstances for the new show, Bones is sure Seacrest is up to the task. After all, he has been co-hosting Live With Kelly and Ryan with Kelly Ripa from home for over a month as well. "I don't think Ryan ever gets nervous," Bones told PEOPLE recently. "He's the GOAT of hosts. I don't really consider myself a host as much as someone who can be funny and hopefully help people. Ryan is the greatest. I talk to Ryan almost every day at this point and he's just like, 'Okay, we've got A, B … he's just so good at what he does. Ryan's not worried."