The newest season of American Idol has no shortage of drama.
Tearjerker auditions, heated exchanges between judges and contestants and a possible gas leak accompany the powerful performances.
Through it all, judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie have an undeniable chemistry.
Bryan, 43, recently opened up to PEOPLE about Katy Perry’s secret talent, the contestant he thinks could win it all and why he’s enjoying the show “now more than ever.”
PEOPLE: Now that you’re in your third year of judging American Idol, do you feel like you, Katy and Lionel have found your spot on the panel, and have a good rhythm going?
BRYAN: Totally. We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we know how to have fun with one another. We’re all artists, and we have a good idea of how to treat these kids when we say “Yes” and send them to Hollywood, and when we say “No.” I think that here, in Year 3, our identities as judges are at another level.
Even watching the premiere on Sunday, I was so proud of what America was able to watch. You’re able to watch good TV that you can sit down and watch with your family, you can cry, you can cheer these kids on. There’s some kids from backgrounds where you just … pull for them. It’s the microcosm of life, we get to see it walk in and you get to see what America’s all about. They get to stand in front of us and sing. And Year 3, I’m enjoying it now more than ever. I feel like, with the show, it seems like we’re catching a good stride, and I’m just excited to be a part of it.
PEOPLE: And Ryan Seacrest is a delight, of course.
BRYAN: When Ryan comes up to me, Lionel and Katy, he goes, “Guys, thank y’all for continuing the brand.” Ryan has said this multiple times. He is Ryan Seacrest because when Idol boomed, it took his career to another level. So Idol has a very special place in Ryan’s heart, and the brand is very important to him. When he comes in and compliments me, Lionel and Katy on what we’re doing, it’s very flattering. And then adding Bobby Bones in, too, is a fun element. He’s out there and getting to know the kids. He’s almost like their mini psychologist. Bobby’s doing great in that role. It’s really fun watching the show spread its wings in a different way.
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PEOPLE: Are there any contestants you felt really drawn to during the auditions and early stages? Is there anyone we should really keep an eye out for this year?
BRYAN: Well, from the ones that you’ve seen … I’ve been pretty vocal about Francisco [Martin]. Francisco, just from the second he walked in, he was so nervous. He was literally freaking out on camera. And, you know, I jumped up out of my seat and calmed him down. But what I don’t know is that this kid is about to blow my mind with his performance. I’m just trying to keep him from fainting. So we get out there, loosen him up and then he delivers this amazing audition.
That’s what’s cool about Idol. We don’t want these kids to come in and be so nervous that they blow their audition. This kid was so nervous that he was about to have a bad audition. We probably would’ve sent him away. But now I think he might win the thing. Francisco is my frontrunner but hey, as America starts voting and the rounds get going, you never know what’s going to happen.
American Idol airs Sundays on ABC.
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