Working from home has a completely different meaning for the 20 American Idol contestants who broadcasted live performances from their home on Sunday, April 26, bringing the nation some much-needed Idol entertainment for the first time since California shelter-in-place regulations were issued in late March. Said Daniel Martin ’01, the show's co-executive producer, of the episode’s success: “It’s unreal.”

The success is even more surprising considering the run-up, as Martin managed the unplanned transition from the show’s Hollywood studio to the homes of the remaining Idol contestants. “When the shelter-at-home orders came in, we had all of our contestants in Los Angeles because we were preparing for the live shows. As things got worse and worse, we knew we wanted to send our contestants home to be with their families. We didn’t want people to get stuck away from their loved ones.”

Daniel Martin ’01, co-executive producer of American Idol, working from home to produce a remote version of the popular television show. Martin has also produced Dancing with the Stars and The X Factor.

 

So contestants were sent home, but not empty-handed. The remaining singers, selected from hundreds of contestants from across the country, were given adequate materials to record and film their performances. “Fortunately for the production team,” Martin said, “the contestants and their families were all up for the challenge.” Not that there wasn’t a learning curve. “One day I spent about forty minutes on a Zoom call with one poor contestant’s mom who had just never set up a tripod before,” he said with a laugh.

“In a way, having these contestants at home with their families has felt more human, more honest, more genuine, because everyone is going through the same thing: the viewers at home watching, all of us working, and the contestants.” —Daniel Martin ’01

“We’ve been really lucky with our pool of talent. All of the contestants and their families have really been incredible,” Martin said, “stepping up and learning new things and trying new things to create performances from their home.” Everyone—contestants, full band, backup singers—worked together digitally to develop these productions. Martin describes hearing the first at-home production as an “oh, wow” moment. “It almost sounded too good.”

Without flashing lights, smoke machines, and background distractions, it almost doesn’t feel like the same show, he said. “In a way, having these contestants at home with their families has felt more human, more honest, more genuine, because everyone is going through the same thing: the viewers at home watching, all of us working, and the contestants. Seeing them perform in this way, to me, creates a real connection.”

The focus, Martin said, is on the talent. “These kids are literally singing their hearts out from their homes. There are no distractions whatsoever.”