Paula Abdul Returns to American Idol as Guest Judge While Luke Bryan Recovers From COVID-19

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American Idol's return to the studio with a live audience comes with a major caveat.

Luke Bryan has been forced to pull out of the season's first live show after contracting COVID-19.

“I’m sad to say I won’t be a part of tonight’s first live @americanidol show,” Bryan shared on social media Monday morning.

Paula Abdul Returns to American Idol

“I tested positive for COVID but I’m doing well and look forward to being back at it soon.”

The news means that producers have brought in a replacement for tonight's two-hour episode, which features the first episode with a studio audience since COVID-19 shut the show down for the first time last season.

But ABC has a treat for fans in Bryan's absence.

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Paula Abdul, an original judge when the series debuted on FOX, will fill the vacant seat temporarily.

Abdul joins Katy Perry and Lionel Richie on the new episode of the series.

"Luke will be missed at our first #AmericanIdol LIVE show tonight, but he is resting now in quarantine at home and we’re wishing him a speedy recovery," reads a post on American Idol's Instagram account.

"We’re so excited to announce @paulaabdul will be stepping in as a guest judge to join Lionel Richie and Katy Perry as we get closer to crowning a new winner!"

American Idol Judges and Host

The 16 contestants still in the running include Alanis Sophia, Alyssa Wray, Ava August, Beane, Caleb Kennedy, Casey Bishop, Cassandra Coleman, Chayce Beckham, Colin Jamieson, Deshawn Goncalves, Grace Kinstler, Graham DeFranco, Hunter Metts, Madison Watkins, Willie Spence, and Wyatt Pike.

Tonight's episode will find 10 contestants advancing to the top 12, while the six remaining singers will perform for the last two spots.

Like other shows, American Idol has adhered to strict COVID-19 protocols to keep the series on the air, meaning that hosts and crew are tested often.

“Shooting a show during a pandemic constantly presents new challenges,” ABC said in a press release.

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“But we are blessed to have the best crew in the business.”

Bringing the live audience back will certainly make things look more realistic. Many shows have ditched the live audiences due to the pandemic.

Abdul initially judged American Idol for eight seasons from 2002-10. She later had multiple guest appearances, stopping by in both 2013 and 2016.

Her most recent TV stint was on The Masked Singer spinoff, The Masked Dancer.

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What are your thoughts on Paula's big return?

Will you be tuning in?

Hit the comments below.

Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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