‘American Idol’ Mentor Bobby Bones on Why Being a Good Singer Is No Longer Enough

Bobby Bones
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ABC/Eric McCandless

The search for the next American Idol is nearly underway, and the gang is back: J udges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, host Ryan Seacrest — and in-house mentor Bobby Bones.

Bones, an award-winning radio personality (and Dancing With the Stars champ), has an ear for talent and a sixth sense for what sells in the music industry, making him an important resource for contestants hoping to realize their potential. Here, Bones talks about what Idol ’s fourth season will look like.

How challenging was it to lean on virtual auditions in the initial Idol contestant search?

Bobby Bones: The thing about American Idol is we’ve embraced the fact that there are good singers everywhere. They’re on Instagram, TikTok. I’m really proud of how we’ve pivoted. The kids sitting in front of their phones all day playing are pretty good. They thrive. The real advantage was for us, as a show, because we were able to get people that never would have come to an audition because of work or the distance. I think in the future we’ll probably do it as well because we were able to reach so many people virtually.

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'Everyone thinks that this is a publicity stunt ... but no, music is my passion,' the social media star said on TikTok after the news broke.

What would you say makes a good contestant given the landscape of music today?

I think five, or even 10 years ago, you can come on American Idol and just be a good singer. Then, you find a place during the show. That’s not what is happening now. If you don’t know who you are in the beginning, you’re in trouble from the get-go. Just about every artist who comes to Idol now knows who they are. That shows how much music, in general, has grown.

How much do you stay in contact with past Idol contestants you’ve mentored?

I don’t see Idol as [a job in which] I come in for an hour, leave and collect a paycheck. I’m really close to a lot of them. I took Walker Burroughs out on tour. Emma Cline — I thought she was so good in Hawaii. I felt bad she got cut so early. She plays in my band and opened for me for a while. Gabby Barrett is killing it. We’re still close.

It’s not just a show or episode. Once I’m here and commit, I’m going to stay here and help as much as I can.

ABC

There has been buzz about Claudia Conway’s (daughter to former White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway) audition. How much interaction did you have with her?

A lot actually. I’m just going to say it was interesting.

What can you say about this season’s tweaks in this COVID era of entertainment?

You’re going to see things like the ticket wall — instead of the judges handing them a ticket, they get to go to the wall to get a ticket. You’re going to see the judges sitting a little farther apart. We’re being extremely conscious about what is happening in the world. I think you’re going to see artists who have some pretty cool success online. Big TikTok folks and people on YouTube that are killing it. They just want to get up a level. Some of the TikTok kids who I was mentoring told me they’ve never sung in front of people in their whole life.

As a Dancing With the Stars Mirrorball winner, what did you think of the tweaks that show made last season to adjust for the pandemic?

Just like sports, you had to make changes. There was nobody in the ballroom, which had to be weird. For me, that was the scariest part — all the people watching me. I didn’t care about the cameras. It was people who were watching in person that was tough for me.

What is Hollywood Week going to look like on Idol?

We never had to shut down during filming. We were hyper-alert with everything in Los Angeles shut down. You are basically in quarantine where you were living and on set. We were crossing our fingers that there were no issues. Behind the scenes, there were COVID protocols and people enforcing them, which I love to see. I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish to make Hollywood Week happen. You’re going to see some cool little twists during Hollywood Week that we haven’t seen before.

American Idol returns, February 14, 8/7c, ABC