The judges head to Idaho in search of the next American Idol
In a sneak peek clip, the trio head to the Midwest in search for the best talent and get quite the musical greeting. Taking on alter egos — Richie as “The Captain,” Perry as “The Aviator,” and Bryan as, well, himself — the AI judges are welcomed by an entire school band and screaming fans. And by the looks of it, they’re not wasting any time getting to work.
The highly anticipated return of the show comes after 20-year-old Maddie Poppe was crowned the winner of Idol‘s 16th season in May, with her boyfriend and runner-up, Caleb Lee Hutchinson by her side.
“I don’t have any words to describe this really. I can’t believe people believed in me this much just to make it to the top two with Caleb. To actually have been named the winner of this show is incredible,” Poppe told reporters after the show.
“I got to be who I wanted to be and the fact that I am here and I can tell you that I won the show is doing exactly what I wanted to do and I didn’t have to change myself for anybody is pretty incredible,” she added.
And while the journey was life-changing, it proved challenging at times.
“There were definitely so many moments where I was going to give up,” she said. “I wish I could go back and tell myself, ‘It’s going to be all right, you just wait!’”
Throughout the season, Poppe won the hearts of millions — including judges Perry, Bryan and Richie.
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Before season 16 kicked off, PEOPLE sat down with the trio to discuss their individual judging techniques.
“It’s very constructive criticism,” Perry said. “Personally, I’m a straight shooter. I’m very cut and dry sometimes. You know, it seems a little not soft — I do try and watch myself because I do know how it feels to be in their shoes. I was in their shoes 10 years ago … I’m inspired by all of their stories. I know it wasn’t an overnight success for me; it’s not going to be for them. They still have a long way to go. We’re really real with them.”
American Idol returns March 3 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. The cross-country audition tour will move forward with an all-new episode on Wednesday, March 6 at 8 p.m. then will continue every Sunday, with five additional Monday night episodes starting March 18.