Lionel Richie Talks New Season of American Idol: ‘It’s Great to Be Back Face to Face’

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Lionel Richie says he’s excited to return for the new season of American Idol, and is looking forward to seeing contestants in-person once again, after two years of virtual auditions and performances.

While Season 18 of Idol began with in-person auditions and tapings, the production team quickly pivoted to virtual performances after the Covid-19 outbreak. Season 19 saw a reverse format: virtual auditions, followed by live performance nights, albeit with a very limited audience and under strict Covid protocols.

With Season 20 on the horizon — expected to air in the spring — Richie says it’ll be good to see people again, if Covid restrictions for filming begin to ease. “Idol is a fabulous experience for the people trying out and for the judges,” he says. “Having said that, the hardest thing to do is to judge somebody when you’re not in the same room. So it’s great to be back face to face. We get a chance to hear and feel these young talented people.”

Richie has a lot of other projects he’s excited about right now – in addition to the return of American Idol, the singer and songwriter has teamed up with Tyra Banks’ ice cream brand, SMiZE Cream, on a new flavor dubbed “All Night Love.” Inspired by his classic anthem, “All Night Long,” the new flavor incorporates some of Richie’s favorite childhood flavors — think salted caramel, chocolate fudge and cookie crumble — into a creamy vanilla ice cream base.

The singer says it was a no-brainer to work with Banks, who he’s known since the mid-90s, when Banks appeared in his music video for his 1996 hit, “Don’t Wanna Lose You.” For Richie, creating an ice cream flavor, after years spent creating songs and videos, was a fun side project that he was excited to tackle.

“What can I say, it’s ‘All Night Love,’” Richie says, about the new partnership. “I am so happy to have some of my favorite hometown tastes featured in my very own SMiZE Cream flavor. It’s been fun to work with the incredible Tyra Banks and to be able to share this special treat with everyone,” he adds.

Banks, meantime, says she’s been a longtime fan of Richie’s, and tells Billboard that the singer was the first person she thought off when SMiZE Cream decided to launch an artist collaboration. The model and TV host says she was especially excited to add chocolate-covered fudge hearts to the “All Night Love” recipe, paying homage to all of Richie’s love songs

“[Lionel’s] stratospherically popular music transcends everything and I’m so excited everybody will be able to enjoy SMiZE Cream’s ‘All Night Love,’ our new super luscious ice cream flavor inspired by Lionel’s musical genius and vivacious personality,” Banks says, in a release. “His music and presence light up any room. And now, Lionel’s delectable ice cream flavor will light up your palate.”

As for her personal favorite Richie song, Banks says that while “Dancing on the Ceiling” is a crowd-pleaser backstage on Dancing With the Stars (where Banks is a host), it’s a toss-up between “All Night Long” and “Stuck on You.” “[‘Stuck on You’] just kind of gets me,” she says. “It gives me chills and makes me feel love filling my spirit and my soul.”

Banks says more musician collaborations are in store for SMiZE Cream, which the media mogul launched in July. “As far as who we want to collaborate with in the future on future flavors, yes we have a list of amazing recording artists, but you’ll just have to wait for the announcements on those,” she says. “Right now, we are laser-focused on Lionel. And beyond obsessed!”

The Lionel Richie x Tyra Banks “All Night Love” ice cream is available now for purchase on smizecream.com.

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