As Luke Bryan takes his seat at the judges’ table on ABC’s revival of American Idol, he has one person to thank for paving his way, no matter how much it might kill him to admit.
That person? Blake Shelton.
You see, before the current People‘s Sexiest Man Alive joined the world of reality TV back in 2011 with the debut of The Voice on NBC, country artists, even those of Shelton and Bryan’s caliber, had been historically denied a seat at the table, with the focus on finding artists from the pop and rock worlds to guide the latest crop of hopefuls to stardom. But that all changed when the world met and fell in love with Shelton, making him the show’s true breakout star.
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With The Voice dominating in the ratings, the powers that be at Fox, shaking in their boots over the diminishing relevance of American Idol, began implementing some changes at their judges’ table. Folks like Simon Cowell and Kara DioGuardi, powerhouses in the music industry behind the scenes, were out. And successful recording artists like Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey were in. Also in? Keith Urban, joining the series in 2013, making him the first country artist to do so. After surviving the brutal season that was dominated by Carey’s bitter feud with fellow judge Nicki Minaj, Urban would outlast them at the judges’ table, sticking with the series until its final season on Fox in 2016.
When ABC announced a year later that they’d be reviving the series for a 2018 debut, Bryan’s name was immediately rumored to be in the mix of artists being considered for a judging position—something that, without Shelton’s continued dominance on The Voice—likely wouldn’t have happened. After all, if you can’t get Shelton, with his down-home charm and goofy dad jokes, you get the next best thing.
And as TV executives and fans alike have learned for the past five years, watching Bryan co-host the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS, he truly is the next best thing. (Shelton was even his co-host for the first three of his telecasts!) He’s just as goofy, just as charming, just as full of that down-home relatability, and just as much of a powerhouse on the charts. Not for nothing, Shelton did call on Bryan to act as his team’s season 12 advisor last spring on The Voice.
While the good friends certainly love taking the piss out of one another—seriously, they are notorious for deploying their goofy senses of humor in one another’s direction, as any quick glance at their Twitter feeds proves—there’s no doubt that Shelton’s proud of his pal for following him into the world of reality TV.
“I think people are going to realize just how dumb he really is when they see him on national television, in an environment where there’s no script,” Shelton jokingly told Entertainment Tonight. “But you’re also gonna see what a great, great, dude that guy is.”
And however much Bryan might be loathe to admit it, there’s no doubt he’s thankful to Shelton for helping to pave the way.
“I would recommend to never reach out to him,” Bryan joked with Seth Meyers on Late Night this past week when asked if he reached out to his friend for advice, before getting real. “Blake did call me. He was really excited for me because…he wanted to see my reaction to this whole other segment. TV has it’s own little lane. Even when we were rolling into the city yesterday, and there’s a big billboard, American Idol. And here’s this yahoo right here. And I’m like, ‘Alright, it’s about to get interesting.’ But Blake was very excited for me because he knew it was something that I would enjoy. And I have.”
Of course, that camaraderie might come crashing down as the two begin comparing ratings. But that’s a whole other story altogether…
Are you looking forward to Bryan on the new American Idol? Sound off in the comments below!
American Idol premieres Sunday, March 11 at 8 p.m. on ABC, while The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)