If the timing had been different, Luke Bryan might have been a contestant on American Idol. Instead, the Georgia native will be one of the show's new judges when the reboot of the singing competition premieres on ABC in March.
Meeting with reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena on Monday alongside returning host Ryan Seacrest, his fellow judges – pop star Katy Perry and R&B legend Lionel Richie – and the show's producers, Bryan recalled moving to Nashville as American Idol was taking off in the early 2000s. "I just remember once I got my record deal… I was, like, 'Gosh, it would have been pretty awesome to have had the opportunity to try out and start with that platform,'" Bryan said, discussing the increasing difficulty of a launching a music career in a crowded marketplace.
"I remember being inspired by it as a young musician," Bryan said of the early days of the original series, which ended its run on Fox in 2016. He also noted Idol's success in the country arena specifically. "The main thing with me is I remember when [season four winner] Carrie Underwood rolled into Nashville. It energized the whole city. And then you look at [season five finalist] Kellie Pickler, who still has a career in entertainment, and then you look at now [season 10 winner] Scotty McCreery is finally catching his stride as an artist."
Bryan, whose latest album What Makes You Country debuted at Number One on the Billboard all-genre Top 200 chart in December, says he decided to take a seat at the judges' table because it "felt like it was going to be a blast to be a part of." He had turned down previous offers to do TV gigs but when Idol called, "I jumped right on it. It was never a moment's thought for me, because I get inspired. I judge and I watch this like a fan of music," he said. "I'm in there on the emotional ride with these kids. When they start singing and they are moving me emotionally, I get wrapped up in the moment. I get wrapped up in the pageantry and the dreams coming true."
Bryan joins the growing list of country stars to lend their talents to reality competitions, including former Idol judge Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, who appeared on ABC's Rising Star and Blake Shelton, who not only currently stars on NBC's The Voice but was previously a judge on Nashville Star.
Although Idol struggled in its later seasons to truly launch a successful artist, Bryan and his fellow judges said they were committed to restoring the luster to the franchise.
"That makes us focus harder as a judging panel because, yeah, there are a few years… where you don't really remember those contestants," he said. "We want it to be right back to where American Idol is known for, building those American idols. And it's each of us sitting around going, 'Is this person going to be what we want them to be?'"
Lest anyone think Bryan has gone Hollywood, when asked how the revival would be different from its predecessor, Seacrest let slip this tidbit during the press conference, "Unlike seasons past, one of the judges goes skeet shooting every morning before the auditions. You guys can guess which one, but it's true, no matter what city we are in."
American Idol bows March 11th on ABC.