'American Idol's Bobby Bones Calls Hollywood Week 'a Showcase of Willpower & Grit'

BOBBY BONES, MAKAYLA PHILLIPS
Q&A
ABC/Christopher Willard

Bobby Bones is known throughout the music business for helping cultivate talent, providing a platform in the form of a national syndicated radio show. He brings his vast experience and supportive ear to American Idol as in-house mentor. Now in Season 3 of the singing competition’s ABC era, Bones has proven an important resource for the contestants, especially early on in the process.

“This is the first year I went into the actual audition rooms. The cool thing for me is I develop relationships with the contestants earlier, so if they need me earlier I’m there,” he tells TV Insider. “We meet in all these cities. I’ll work with them on how they’re going to sing a song, their nerves. For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve been to a major city ever. I can relate to that. I grew up super poor and didn’t go anywhere until it was time to do some cool things for work.”

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The personality believes this element of relatability starts to truly manifest when Hollywood Week comes around. By then, Bones has already been working with those chosen from the beginning of their journey, which can make a difference.

“They are coming to me easier, quicker and much more comfortable asking me for advice,” he adds. “It’s fun to break artists on the radio and on a national level, but it’s also cool to be with them in a room saying, ‘Hey, I understand how you’re feeling right now because it’s a big show. But let me walk you through what you can do in order to make this your best experience.’ For me, it’s fulfilling.”

Before tears are shed, drama unfolds and the field is narrowed down, Bones previews what’s to come.

LUKE BRYAN, LIONEL RICHIE, KATY PERRY, BOBBY BONES, RYAN SEACREST

(ABC/Gavin Bond)

Is there anything you learned from the past two seasons that you implemented in your approach this time around? 

Bobby Bones: I know the judges a little better. Luke Bryan and I are good friends — we have been for years. I’ve known Luke for a long time ... I know what Luke is looking for because I have a relationship with him. Lionel Richie and I are now close after three seasons. We got to know each other a little bit in Season 1. Last season was a little more because he helped me out a lot when I was filling in for Ryan. We spent a lot of time together this year, as well. With Lionel, I know how to describe him and what he is looking for to the contestants. I’ve been able to know Katy Perry a little bit.

Also, the fact I went on a reality show and won — I won Dancing With the Stars. I’ve never done anything like that before. I can also talk to them about the strategy they’re trying to implement as they walk in and try to be the next American Idol. There has been growth even for me in the process.

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Hollywood Week is known to break contestants. There is so much pressure. What do you do to ease their nerves with such an intense environment? 

I think the fact they had an ally. Not that anyone isn’t friendly, but they don’t see the judges unless they are performing in front of them. I’m there with them before they go out, during and after. I’m there days they aren’t performing. I’m constantly an ear and voice for them. In Hollywood Week when they have a relationship with me already, I think I do help them. Hollywood Week is a grind.

Beyond a showcase of talent, it’s a showcase of willpower and grit. There are two days where you don’t sleep and you’re having to perform and you have to figure out how to perform and get along with others. There is a lot going into it. I think Hollywood Week is the toughest. Not necessarily because of the talent portion, but the hard work and determination part of it.

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The production team does such a great job capturing how much pressure and stress these individuals are under during this phase of the competition. Is there anything you’d say the audience doesn't really see? 

There is no sleep. Anytime you’re not sleeping and you have to think, that stinks. You’re learning something new and not sleeping. There is a lot of waiting around that you don’t see. That would be a boring show to show the time waiting around. These contestants are up at 5 a.m. ready to go and don’t know when they’re going to get called. They may not go on until 2 or 3 p.m. Sometimes the judges or the producers aren’t sure.

They can base order on the songs and performances. Some of the kids who aren’t of age yet have to go to school during the daytime. You don’t see that on the show. If you’re 16 or 17, you’re not 18 yet. There is only so much you can do in a day because of work laws. It’s a lot of that stuff going into it. A lot of the puzzle is being put together while we’re there, which makes it very interesting. It’s a bit tedious because they are always practicing and on their toes. It may not be three hours until they go on.

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The music industry is constantly changing. What does it take for an artist to be successful in today’s marketplace? 

To be constantly evolving. Trying to put as much of you in as many places as possible. If that’s social media, American Idol or going to your local TV stations or playing bars and restaurants. It’s about trying to be present in as many places as possible to get eyeballs on you. There are a lot of ways to make it now, it’s not just being on the radio or just about one thing.

Can you get your songs on a streaming site? Can you develop a following there? Can you get a SoundCloud going? It’s really trying to be in as many places as you possibly can. It’s the Wild West, which is what is great about it. There is not one way to do it. It’s not easy to do, but if you hang in long enough and spend time figuring it out, I think it is absolutely attainable.

Who will be the person who walks out with the contract this time around, given the marketplace today and what the judges are looking for? 

I think it’s an artist who has zeroed in on their very distinct style. People aren’t looking for vanilla acts regardless of how good they are. The person will have a message or a distinct sound. The entertainment industry is a bunch of niches now. Everyone is trying to find what they like to them personally, and there is the option to have that. I think the people that will succeed are the ones who already know who they are, aren’t particularly mainstream and can develop their own following based on what they already do and what they do. It’s also not about chasing a carrot and what people will like. It’s knowing who they are already and serving that.

(ABC/Stewart Cook)

You took up added responsibility last season stepping in for Ryan Seacrest due to illness. Are there plans to expand on your role as we head into the live shows in the coming weeks? 

They’ve elevated me a ton this year. They even put me in the promos, which is pretty crazy. I’m one of the central cast now. When I saw the image of American Idol promotion, I was shocked because I didn’t know they had big goals for me. They do, and I think I’ve been an effective tool for the talent. There are times I get to pick their songs. For me, the puzzle gets put together for the contestants because we learn more about them. The same thing happens with us on the show, as well.

Also, they’ve given me a lot of freedom to assign creative processes to a lot of these singers. If I feel like they should do something, I’m told they’re going to let them do it on TV. There is a responsibility for me that I don’t have them do really dumb things. It’s all been an elevation to me. Getting to exist on such a big brand that is still being cutting edge when finding talent. It has been exciting, and I can’t wait to see where it goes this season.

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Along with your American Idol duties, you’re continuing to host a popular radio show based in Nashville. You’ve been doing some great outreach and fundraising work to help that community and neighboring ones  affected by the tornadoes. What can people do to help the cause? 

At BobbyBones.com we have a line of shirts called #PimpinJoy. In 24 hours, we raised about $70,000. It’s just one of the ways we’re trying to help out. Not just people in Nashville — there has been some real devastation throughout Tennessee — our show tries to help out all over the country because our show is all across the country. We have listeners everywhere. It so happens this one is super close to home.

American Idol, Hollywood Week Begins, Sunday, March 16, 8/7c, ABC