Can new judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry revive 'American Idol'?

Lyndsey Parker
Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie are the new ‘American Idol’ judges (Photos: Entertainment Tonight)

Hello. Apparently Lionel Richie is the judge American Idol was looking for.

After months of gossip and speculation, the R&B legend has finally signed up for ABC’s Idol reboot, and will be joining previously announced judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan (and returning host Ryan Seacrest, the lone holdover from the series’ Fox era) in spring 2018.

“I am very excited to be joining Katy, Luke, and Ryan on American Idol,” Richie said in a statement Friday. “As a singer, songwriter, and producer, I feel I can bring a great deal of experience to the table. It’s going to be so much fun!”

Indeed it will be! I for one am already hoping the contestants will link arms and warble the Richie-co-penned “We Are the World” on the Season 16 finale. Maybe they can even dance on the ceiling! And if Richie ever places a lumpy clay bust of his head on his judging desk, then someone needs to give that guy an Emmy.

In all seriousness, though, Richie is the perfect addition to round out the new Idol panel. First of all, he will bring a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor to the proceedings. Anyone who’s seen Richie play on an otherwise hipster-packed bill at Bonnaroo or Outside Lands, or with bitter ex-Idol judge Mariah Carey (who reportedly — and thankfully unsuccessfully — warned Richie not to do Idol), knows that his banter-heavy, Vegas-style performances are often cheesier than the fare served by the grilled cheese truck at a festival food court … but he happily embraces, celebrates, and sells his own cheese. And the fans just eat it up. So I suspect Richie will be the breakout star judge of this revamped Idol season, much like eccentric Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler was when he joined Idol in 2011.

But Richie won’t be a clown for our amusement — the man also has decades of serious music-biz experience, with and without the Commodores, and is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time (100 million records worldwide). He’s scored hits on the R&B, pop, and even country charts (writing “Lady” for Kenny Rogers and releasing a No. 1 country-crossover album, 2012’s Tuskegee, featuring collaborations with Jason Aldean, Little Big Town, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, and other Nashville A-listers).

Basically, to sum up: Everyone has endless love for Lionel Richie.

But what about the other two judges — what will they bring to the table? When Richie, Perry, and Bryan hit the airwaves next year, not only will they be going up against The Voice’s new superstar panel featuring poached original Idol Kelly Clarkson (even Clarkson admits this is weird), but they’ll be on ABC, a network with an unimpressive track record when it comes to singing competitions. (Remember 2012’s Duets? That ABC show featured Clarkson as a judge — along with Richie, before he dropped out at the last minute and was replaced by John Legend — and it was still a ratings disaster.) So the new Idol judges will have their work cut out for them.

It’s easy to see why ABC wanted Bryan: He’s pretty much Idol’s answer to wildly popular Voice coach Blake Shelton, with whom Bryan hosted the Academy of Country Music Awards from 2012 to 2014. (Bryan also served as Team Blake’s adviser for The Voice Season 12.) He’s funny, likable, and clearly comfortable on camera, and he’ll bring in the traditional, country-loving Idol viewers who made Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, and Scotty McCreery household names. He also already has (no pun intended) an easy rapport with his new fellow judge, having performed with Richie and covered Richie’s songs multiple times in the past.

The real $25 million question is how Perry will fare. Is she really worth her much-hyped (and much-bragged-about) $25 million salary, which reportedly ate up a good chunk of ABC’s Idol budget? Her fifth album, Witness, received mixed-to-scathing reviews, and it embarrassingly stiffed on the charts. (The LP’s first single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” dropped out of the top 10 after two weeks; its follow-up singles, “Bon Appetit” and “Swish Swish,” didn’t even make it that far, stalling at No. 46 and No. 59 respectively.) So Perry isn’t quite the zeitgeist-capturing sensation she was back in her unstoppable “Teenage Dream” heyday.

However, Perry has recently displayed some comedic chops as the host of the MTV Video Music Awards; she was pretty hilarious arguing with judge Kara DioGuardi when she guest judged on Idol in 2010; and, well, she’s the only Idol performer to ever appear on the show wearing a cape embroidered with the name “Adam Lambert,” a.k.a. the Best Contestant Ever. So she might be a lot of fun.

And despite Witness’s disappointing chart performance, Perry’s résumé is actually as platinum-plated as Richie’s. She’s the third-best-selling digital singles artist in the U.S.; she’s sold more than 100 million records globally; and she holds the record for most 5-million-selling singles in the States.

The new American Idol judges will make their first joint appearance next Wednesday, Oct. 4, on ABC’s Good Morning America, so that will be our first glimpse of their chemistry — which could make or break the show. But in end, what will really make or break American Idol is the quality of the contestants, so let’s just hope that Richie, Bryan, and Perry can do their jobs well.

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