Luke Bryan Says Not Being Able to Hug 'American Idol' Contestants Is the 'Hardest Part' of Filming

"The fact that me and Lionel and Katy can't walk out there and do the human element — hug and show support and love, is very, very tough," the country star tells PEOPLE of filming during the pandemic

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When it comes to filming American Idol's fourth season during a pandemic, Luke Bryan is making the best of the situation.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the country star and Idol judge, 44, opened up about the new protocols surrounding the ABC singing competition show amid the coronavirus pandemic — and how it has been affecting his judging style, as well as his mental well-being.

"The interesting thing is just trying to navigate all of the new rules of COVID-19," said Bryan, who has served as a judge on the show alongside Katy Perry and Lionel Richie for four seasons. "One tricky thing is a lot of times during the audition process, contestants will get very, very emotional and it will be an emotional situation for them. The fact that me and Lionel and Katy can't walk out there and do the human element — hug and show support and love, is very, very tough."

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American Idol. Eric McCandless/ABC

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"I think that's one thing you'll see as a viewer of me and Lionel and Katy," he added. "When someone is hurting and they're emotional, you want to console them and hug them and love on them to help them through. The fact that sometimes we can't go put our arms around them is pretty heartbreaking."

But despite the restrictions, Bryan said the show will still "look and feel the same."

"At the core of it, it's all about those wonderful singers and talented singers walking in the door and really blowing our minds as judges," he said. "I think through all of the COVID restrictions and rules, we've been able to really, really put an amazing show together, and very excited to see some of the talent that we've been able to find."

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Samantha 'Just Sam' Diaz was crowned the winner of season 3 in May 2020.

The show made history in April when contestants and judges were forced to broadcast remotely at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. "It's technically not possible to do it all live obviously," Seacrest told PEOPLE at the time.

Season 4 of American Idol premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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