“We want to take the same thing we did this year,” Richie, 69, told Us Weekly exclusively at the season 17 finale on Sunday, May 19. “I’ve got the three greatest personalities ever on the planet. Now, when I started out with this group, I was a bit worried. I kept telling America to pray for me. But now that I know who everybody is and their characters, oh, my God, I would not do another show without them.”
Bryan, 42, echoed, “We’ve had an amazing two years. … And when you look at just the overall approach of the show [this year], we had a clearer vision. We developed our identity and the role. And, you know, we want to keep that going. We’re proud of what people are at home watching.”
Case in point: The country singer told Us that viewers have walked up to him on the street and said, “We love the way y’all [are] treating these kids on American Idol.”
“We have artists watching the show all over the world. They’re watching the show, saying, ‘Great talent,’” Bryan said after name-dropping Elton John and Stevie Nicks. “It’s just the best feeling in the world.”
So, did the judges feel they were more on the same page this season than last year? Perry, 34, thinks so! “It feels good that we’re really getting to know each other,” she told Us.
“What I like is that we now feel each other and we know how to look at each other and go, ‘What are we looking for now?’ Real artists, not great singers, but real artists that can sing,” Richie explained. “We finally got on the same page, and it took a moment. But for the second season, that’s an example. When you have to throw off the top 15 and you don’t know who to throw off, that tells you what you’ve been doing.”
Sunday night’s finale came down to three finalists: Laine Hardy, Alejandro Aranda and Madison VanDenburg. Hardy, 18, took home the title, while Aranda, 24, finished as the runner-up.
“I feel crazy. My mind is overwhelmed,” the Louisiana native told Us. “My mind went totally blank right when [host Ryan Seacrest announced I won]. I couldn’t believe it. It’s unbelievable. It feels unreal right now. My mind is going in 5,000 different directions.”
To celebrate his win, Hardy released his debut single, “Flame,” which he performed on the finale.
With reporting by Taylor Ferber
For access to all our exclusive celebrity videos and interviews – Subscribe on YouTube!