Keeping with its Billboard hits theme, Wednesday’s episode of American Idol recruited two radio hitmakers as mentors: Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of the bro-country duo, Florida Georgia Line, and pop crooner Jason Derulo. On set at the live taping, Kelley, Hubbard, and Derulo told Entertainment Weekly about their time with their mentees, the best advice they’ve ever received, and the competition’s frontrunners.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your time like working with the contestants?
TYLER HUBBARD: It was awesome. We didn’t really know what to expect coming in, but I think B.K. and myself left having learned more than we taught. The contestants here are super talented and very willing to learn. We were honored to be here.
BRIAN KELLEY: They’re just in such a fresh spot, and it’s really cool to see their excitement. It’s infectious. They’re excited, they’re out jamming with all the contestants off camera. They’re singing and snapping and basically making up songs as they go. It feels like home to be around that. It’s inspiring. It feels good, and it just feels like a great group of people. Like younger, guy-girl versions of Tyler and me.
JASON DERULO: It just brought me back to my very beginning stages. I tried to be as brutally honest as I could be—I wish somebody would have done that for me. I tried to be that guy who just gives the tough love to allow their star to shine. What is it about these specific contestants that makes America love them? It’s about bringing that strong suit out.
What specific things did you work on in rehearsal?
DERULO: Bringing swag and a confidence to a specific contestant. Some were a little pitchy at times. And also arrangement. Sometimes someone’s arrangement can be the downfall. If your arrangement doesn’t show off what you have, then America doesn’t know, and America won’t feel that. So I really worked hard on the arrangement as well and made sure they had the right arrangement to allow their voices to shine as much as they could.
KELLEY: Everyone was really coachable, teachable. It was just more fine-tuning than any major adjustments, just try this or try that. Everybody was really receptive to what we had to say, and like Tyler said, we took a lot away from it. We don’t ever want to be complacent in what we do, so it’s cool to try and learn and get better and get inspired wherever that may come and take one day at a time. It’s cool to spend our day coaching and mentoring and learning alongside Scott Borchetta.
What advice did you really want to impart? Maybe advice that you were given when you were starting out?
HUBBARD: I think the major theme of what we were trying to teach most of them was confidence. These kids, for a lot of them, this is their first time being in front of a crowd and they’re in front of millions and millions of people on camera. The confidence, it’s going to get there, for sure. It just takes a little bit of time.
DERULO: Diddy told me to never sleep. I always take naps. I live by that advice.
Who would you say are the frontrunners?
KELLEY: I’d say Nick, if he gets the confidence to step outside of the guitar and step outside of being a band guy, and solidifies himself as a lead guy in that role. He’s got a good smile, the ladies like him, his voice is incredible, and as he continues to fine-tune his craft and where he thinks his music is headed, I think he could have a bright future and put up a good fight to win.
DERULO: I’m going to pass on that, but I will say that the person who wins this competition has to prove to America that they are somebody young people can look up to. You have to be someone who somebody else can emulate growing up. You just have to be an individual. There’s already a Michael Jackson, there’s already an Usher, there’s already a Beyoncé, there’s already a Celine Dion. What is your individual light? That’s what an American Idol has to be, somebody who has that individual light that people can look up to and think, “I want to be like that person.”