'American Idol' live shows start tonight: Producers unveil new set, talk format changes for 'lucky' season 13

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Image Credit: Matthias Vriens-McGrath/Fox

When American Idol‘s rush week begins Tuesday night, fans of the long-running singing competition will notice a couple of changes to the show. For one, what is Rush Week?

The new stage of the competition marks the beginning of the live shows for the 13th season, which welcomed back judges Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez, as well as introducing fan favorite Harry Connick Jr. to the panel. The live shows will also feature a brand-new set created to tap into the energy of live music, which executive producer Evan Prager says is the core of the show. The complete 360-degree environment features two performance stages with the judges on a center platform. With fans seated up to the ceiling, set designer Baz Halpin said the intimate feeling will allow for multiple staging options and for the performers to move around more. Director Louis J. Horvitz says that the new set will also help get away from the repetition of the 13 weeks of live competition. Using cinematic framing, Horvitz is looking to draw the audience in not just as a rock concert though, but as a true narrative following the contestants, showing more reaction shots and time rehearsing and with their families.

Horvitz, Halpin, and Prager, along with executive producers Trish Kinane and Jesse Ignjatovic, are all new to the Idol world, but Per Blankens comes from the Swedish version of Idol. Though he says the American version is much better, he has taken many ideas from abroad with him. For one, they allowed contestants to use their own guitars during auditions, as well as having the judges themselves give out the golden tickets to Hollywood. Blankens said America and Sweden have a very similar TV culture, so he was confident in these ideas, since they had already been tested. All the producers said they had been looking forward to live shows since they signed on, saying that’s when the real competition begins and when the audience can really get involved. So they wanted to get to that part of the competition a little sooner, and thus created rush week.

Rush Week will see the top 31 performers (16 boys, 15 girls) cut down immediately in the live shows to 10 boys and 10 girls, so 11 singers from the top 31 will be cut on the spot before they have a chance to sing for America. Those decisions were made based on a workshop with former judge Randy Jackson between Hollywood Week and now. After America votes and picks the top 10, the judges will then choose five of the top 20 contestants who weren’t voted through to perform one more time for a wild-card slot. Each judge will then get one pick from that five to create the top 13, which will be revealed Thursday. All of the performances during Rush Week will be performed on the center stage, where the judges will usually sit, to create an even more intimate feel.

With returning music director Ricky Minor back, the band will be in close proximity to the performers on the sides of the stage, allowing for the possibility of additional musicians or scenery on stage throughout the season. Another big change for the season is that voting will now begin at the top of the show and continue through to 10 a.m. ET. Though Idol has a partnership with Facebook, they aren’t tapping into any live social media voting just yet.

So will all these changes help revamp the show’s aging format? The first live American Idol show airs Tuesday night on Fox at 8 p.m. ET, with the girls performing first and the boys performing live Wednesdat night. The top 13 will then be announced Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

Check out some personal photos from our visit to the set:

A look at Idol’s main performance stage

Reporters sitting at the new judges’ table

The contestant's lounge

The contestant’s lounge


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