‘American Idol’ notes: Seacrest leaving E! red carpet, season 19 preview, Gabby Barrett, Clay Aiken, Jordin Sparks

AMERICAN IDOL - ABC's "American Idol" stars Ryan Seacrest. (ABC/Brian Bowen Smith)
AMERICAN IDOL - ABC's "American Idol" stars Ryan Seacrest. (ABC/Brian Bowen Smith)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Ryan Seacrest is leaving his longtime job as the red-carpet host for E! after 14 years.

He released a statement but did not explain why he chose to depart now.

It isn’t the worst time to cut out. Traditional red-carpet events have been verboten the past 11 months though they may start back up soon. The next big show of the awards season is The Golden Globes on Feb. 28.

No replacement has been named yet.

Seacrest, 46, still has plenty of other work running his production company (which oversees the “Kardashians” reality shows), his daily radio show, the “American Top 40″ countdown show, his daily talk show with Kelly Ripa, the “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and “American Idol” host. He now largely works out of New York City after years in Los Angeles.

He stopped doing the daily E! news show in 2012 after six years.

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AMERICAN IDOL - ABC's "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest with judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, and in-house mentor Bobby Bones. (ABC/Eric McCandless)
AMERICAN IDOL - ABC's "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest with judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, and in-house mentor Bobby Bones. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

The 19th season of “American Idol” starts on Sunday. It’s also the fourth season on ABC after 15 years on Fox. The producers have kept the same set of judges since the network move: Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.

There have been no major changes in the format, which because of COVID-19 has been tweaked, such as keeping the judges further apart from each other and minimizing the number of family and friends accompanying the contestants.

At least the show is shooting in the studio again as opposed to the virtual shows “Idol” had to do last year once the pandemic began.

On “Live With Kelly and Ryan,” Perry talked about the challenge of going back to work just five weeks after she gave birth to her daughter.

”Giving birth, then going back to work and breastfeeding, like — holy crap! This is what women do? Oh my God!” she said.

Perry also told “Good Morning America”: “This season is all about love and the fact that all you need is love. And I think you know as a world we’ve experienced a little bit of a loss of love not being able to be with the people that we love. I experienced a huge influx of love when my daughter came into our lives, and so I was definitely able to give more love this season.”

“Idol’ mentor Bobby Bones said in an interview with Parade magazine that producers hunted for potential stars on TikTok and some viral hitmakers will appear on the show.

MJ’s Big Blog compiled 25 contestants who have tried out for the show this season, including a few familiar faces from past seasons or other reality shows.

She also posted a gallery of some of the contestants ABC recently released.

In past years, the judges would fly to different cities around the country to check out talent, although the talent seldom matches the city itself. The judges this time stayed in California, traveling to sites in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Ojai, California, and the talent was flown out West. The show also relied entirely this year on virtual auditions with no bus tour or stops in various cities.

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THE 54TH ANNUAL CMA AWARDS - "The 54th Annual CMA Awards", hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker aired from Nashville's Music City Center, WEDNESDAY, NOV. 11 (8:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC)
GABBY BARRETT
THE 54TH ANNUAL CMA AWARDS - "The 54th Annual CMA Awards", hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker aired from Nashville's Music City Center, WEDNESDAY, NOV. 11 (8:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC) GABBY BARRETT

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Gabby Barrett, a season 16 finalist, had her first baby last month with fellow finalist and husband Cade Foehner.

Her daughter’s name is Baylah May Foehner.

She is also the biggest star emanating from “Idol” since Phillip Phillips nearly a decade ago.

Her single “I Hope” was the top Billboard country song in 2020. Billboard ranked her the top new artist in 2020 and No. 2 among all country women behind only Maren Morris.

The song crossed over to pop when it became a duet with Charlie Puth and made the top three on the Billboard Hot 100.

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Michael Orland, a music director for "Idol" for its first 16 seasons, has a podcast now interviewing alums.
Michael Orland, a music director for "Idol" for its first 16 seasons, has a podcast now interviewing alums.

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

Michael Orland, the music director for “Idol” for its first 16 seasons, is now doing a weekly Instagram Live show featuring former “Idol” alums every Thursday.

He just did one recently with season two runner-up Clay Aiken, who provided a chockful of fun stories from his time on the show in 2003.

Apparently, he was so nervous entering the cattle call, he sang the “Perfect Strangers” theme song first before moving to “Always and Forever.” He said “Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe in round two gave him the advice to sing “Always and Forever” directly to judge Paula Abdul. Clay said Nigel probably thought it would be amusing to have a gay guy do this. As luck would have it, when he tried out, Paula was not there, sparing Clay the potential embarrassment. He said Ruben Studdard — the eventual winner — befriended Clay at the hotel because Clay was hanging out with attractive women. (They remain close friends.)

Clay said during his wild-card week, he wanted to sing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but the producers couldn’t get permission to use it. So vocal coach Debra Byrd called Elton John personally to get it cleared. Back then, many songwriters were worried their songs would be ruined by contestants on the show and refused to clear their songs.

He recalled his country week’s first choice was Dolly Parton’s “Here We Come Again.” But Simon Cowell had complained Clay was too theatrical, and Michael, the music director, at the time told Aiken that this particular song wouldn’t help matters. So, Clay took Michael’s advice and sang Brian White’s country ballad “Someone Else’s Star” instead.

Clay said he never chose a song he didn’t already know until producers selected one during the top-three round: “Vincent” by Don McLean. He didn’t like the song much at all, so he and Michael shortened the song down to a minute. Nigel flipped out during the dress rehearsal because it was a favorite song of his, and he felt that was too short. Nigel told Clay at the last second to sing a second verse on the fly but agreed to feed the lyrics to him on a monitor. Clay said he ended up missing his entrance to the second verse though it wasn’t really obvious to anybody watching.

Clay doesn’t do much public singing much anymore. He said he may take the Ruben/Clay Christmas combo on the road at some point. “I like singing with Ruben,” he said. “But I did 11 years of touring. I do sing for my foundation’s major annual gala every year and do things for private groups for fans a few times of the year.”

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THE MASKED DANCER: L-R: Jordin Sparks and host Craig Robinson in the "Top 5, Dance The Night Away" episode of THE MASKED DANCER airing Wednesday, Feb. 3 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker/ FOX. © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC.
THE MASKED DANCER: L-R: Jordin Sparks and host Craig Robinson in the "Top 5, Dance The Night Away" episode of THE MASKED DANCER airing Wednesday, Feb. 3 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker/ FOX. © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

Jordin Sparks, season 6 “Idol” winner in 2007, was revealed last week as the “Exotic Bird” on Fox’s “The Masked Dancer,” a spin-off of “The Masked Singer.”

It was a reunion of sorts. Sparks was judged yet again by Paula Abdul, who was on both “Idol” for its first eight seasons and the current “Masked Dancer.”

“She has natural ability,” Adbul proclaimed after she watched the Exotic Bird’s opening number. “She can dance.” (One of her early guesses was Jennifer Hudson, a fellow “Idol” alum, so she wasn’t far off the mark.)

After Sparks was picked to be eliminated Feb. 3, the judges had to make their final guesses and by then, Abdul had a better handle of who it was.

Abdul asked her, “Have we met before?”

Sparks said yes.

She properly predicted it was Sparks before Sparks pulled off her mask.

Sparks, now 31, said she had never done choreography before and was scared of dancing until she did it on the show. “I loved being able to prove my own self wrong,” she said in a post-show interview.

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Here are a few of the recent Kelly Clarkson ‘Kellyoke” opening numbers on her talk show, seen locally on WSB-TV at 10 a.m. weekdays.

She sang Gwen Stefani’s “Misery” on Feb. 8:

On Feb. 4, she did Heart’s “Barracuda”:

On Feb. 3, she tackled Vertical Horizon’s “Best I’ve Ever Had”

On Feb. 2, she covered Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

On Feb. 1, she did a version of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train.”

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