‘American Idol’ returns Sunday night — and Ryan Seacrest says watch out for the teens

ABC/Eric McCandless

American Idol celebrated its 20th season last year, and Sunday night it kicks off its third decade. The OG of reality singing competitions is still finding promising contestants, which is somewhat surprising for host Ryan Seacrest, who’s been there since the beginning.

“Honestly, behind closed doors, sometimes we look at each other and say, ‘Did we find everybody? Are there really enough contestants out there that can exceed expectations?’ The answer is yes,” Ryan tells ABC Audio.

“They actually get better and better because they start performing earlier … and they can get feedback on their performances and they become a little more understanding of what it takes to be a star by the time they get to us,” he notes. 

“I think that’s what keeps me going, is going around the country and seeing the next class of talent,” he adds.

There are spoilers online if you want information about this season’s contestants, including several rejects from The Voice, but Ryan will only say that there’s “a lot of great country this year” and “a lot of the younger contestants are very good.”

“I mean, 16, 17 years old — very, very good,” he adds.

More than 20 years in, Ryan points out that even non-winners — from Jennifer Hudson to Adam Lambert to Gabby Barrett — are still able to win on the charts. For example, season 14’s Jax had a huge pop hit with “Victoria’s Secret” last year.

“It’s so great to see contestants who may not have won still achieve success in the business,” Ryan notes. “It just goes to show you [that] … the platform of American Idol can make things happen. We’ve seen that over the years. You don’t have to be the winner.”

American Idol airs Sunday, February 19, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. 

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