Bobby Bones Is 'Just Happy to Be There Mentoring' for His Fourth Season of 'American Idol' 

"The families are in there now, which is a whole new added element that we haven't had before. So, in a way, us having to figure out new paths to take, has actually created better paths for us to travel on," the radio host and mentor explains

Bobby Bones Calls Ryan Seacrest the 'Greatest of All Time' Ahead of Remote American Idol Episode
Bobby Bones . Photo: Getty Images

Bobby Bones has spent three seasons serving as a mentor to a slew of talented artists vying for their chance at stardom on American Idol. He has given them their share of good news and bad news, told them the hard truth about their performances and the cruel reality of the business, high-fived them when they succeeded and hugged them when they cried.

But not this year.

Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, there are no congratulatory high-fives or comforting hugs and more often than not, Bones is keeping a six-foot distance between him and the contestants. Nevertheless, there is a sincerity that Bones has long been known for, a sincerity between him and everyone that he looks straight in the eye that simply can't be wiped away by any crazy coronavirus.

Bobby Bones. Ed Herrera/ ABC

"I'm just happy to be there mentoring them in that room," Bones, 40, tells PEOPLE in a recent interview. "And the families are in there now, which is a whole new added element that we haven't had before. And honestly, it's probably something we wouldn't have thought of if it wasn't for other kinds of restrictions. So, in a way, us having to figure out new paths to take, has actually created better paths for us to travel on."

Indeed, the current season of American Idol has certainly taken on a whole new look in light of the current restrictions set forth due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. For example, for the most part, this year's contestants initially auditioned online, making it possible for people from every corner of the country to take their shot at the spotlight

"That allowed people, who either couldn't afford to drive to another city, or maybe didn't have the time or they couldn't get off work, to audition from their home," explains the newly engaged radio host. "And, for one, that makes for so many more talented performers. And for two, the stories are frickin' wonderful."

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Certainly, many of these wonderful stories began to play out during the past year's quarantine, leaving countless star-crossed contestants finding themselves at home with nothing to do but share their craft on their various social media channels, straight from the comfort of their bedrooms.

But little did they know that American Idol was watching.

"What Idol does is they pivot from year to year," remarks Bones, who also won season 27 of Dancing with the Stars. "And they don't hide from the fact that they do an open call. Anybody can show up, but also, if they see somebody on TikTok that is really good, they'll be like, 'Hey, do you want to come try this?'"

It's this strategy and this constant evolution that continues to make the revival of American Idol one of television's biggest success stories. Originally premiering in the summer of 2002, the singing competition show has jumpstarted the careers of a slew of artists, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Scotty McCreery.

2020 CMA Awards
Bobby Bones. Jason Kempin/Getty

In April of 2016, the longtime FOX show went on a hiatus of sorts, only to be picked up by ABC two years later. Now, Bones works alongside host Ryan Seacrest and judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie in a collective effort to carve out some stars from the talented pool of American Idol contestants each and every year.

"The great thing about American Idol is that it's always all about the contestants," explains Bones, whose new Nat Geo series Breaking Bobby Bones premieres May 31. "It's not about the judges. Even though our judges are super famous and have been massive stars, it's all about the contestant. And that's what they say before they go out there to judge and that's what I say before I start mentoring these kids."

American Idol
American Idol. Eric McCandless/ABC

And as far as Bones is concerned, it's what continues to set American Idol apart from all the rest.

"Listen, there are 10,000 singing competitions," Bones says with a slight laugh. "American Idol will always be King Ding-a-ling in those, because we were the first. But the thing about American Idol, it's always about the contestant. And it's always about how relatable and how strong their stories are. And this year, these stories are as strong as ever."

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