SALT LAKE CITY — When “American Idol” came to Salt Lake City last summer, people began showing up as early as 3:30 a.m. to claim a spot in line. 

It was a Thursday, late August. Most people that showed up were local, but some had traveled from out of state for a chance to audition. Aspiring stars stood in line for several hours just to reach “American Idol” producers. Finally, after singing for a few seconds, some got a “yes.” Many more received a “no.”

The process can be nerve-wracking and exhausting. But it’s familiar — like the show’s format, the audition process for “American Idol” hasn’t changed much over the years. 

Until now. 

To survive during a pandemic, the entertainment industry worldwide has embraced flexibility and creativity. For “American Idol,” that meant crowning this past season’s winner virtually. Standing alone in a rented Los Angeles apartment, 21-year-old subway singer Just Sam clutched an iPad that showed her grandmother dancing and celebrating on video chat when she was declared the winner. 

Production assistant Collin DeClerk tries to get the crowd excited while filming before “American Idol” auditions in Salt Lake City.
Collin DeClerk, production assistant, tries to get the crowd excited while filming before “American Idol” auditions outside of the Northwest Community Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. This year, “Idol” is holding virtual auditions. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Now, a few months later, “American Idol” continues virtually — at least for the preliminary audition phase. That means the longrunning reality show has the potential to reach more people than ever before, according to Melissa Elfar, an “American Idol” producer. Thanks to Zoom, “Idol” is reaching all 50 states for the first time in the show’s history, 

“It has made it more convenient and accessible for anybody and everybody,” Elfar told the Deseret News. “It’s never been easier to audition. You literally can be on your phone in your bedroom auditioning. You can be in the bathroom, in the kitchen, wherever you want to be.” 

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While Elfar didn’t provide any numbers, she said the turnout so far has been “fantastic.” Virtual auditions began Aug. 10, starting with “Idol” hopefuls from Delaware, Florida and Ohio. On Thursday, “Idol” is listening to singers from Utah, Idaho and New Mexico. 

“There’s a lot of first-timers, a lot of first-time people who’ve never auditioned before,” Elfar said. “I think a lot more people are coming out now because it is so easy to audition. And the talent just keeps getting better and better.” 

Virtual auditions go through Sept. 9. Aspiring “Idol” contestants can sign up for an audition date online. Although the dates are ordered by state, Elfar said people can choose any day that works best for their schedule. Singers can also pick a time slot for their audition. While this reduces the prolonged wait those auditioning in-person often experience, footage provided by “American Idol” shows that there is still a Zoom waiting room.

 “You’re not necessarily waiting in the long line,” Elfar said. “You just show up at your designated time and then we’ll get you in as soon as we can. The goal was to make it really seamless and effortless.”

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Zoom partnered with ‘“Idol” to create “custom-built” technology, the Deseret News previously reported. The virtual auditions are still a live, face-to-face experience, with contestants getting immediate feedback from “Idol” producers. Since launching the virtual auditions, Elfar described the audio as being “up to par,” and said there have been “very few technical glitches.”

Alayna Faith reacts as security tries to get the crowd excited while waiting for “American Idol” auditions outside of the Northwest Community Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. This year, “Idol” is holding virtual auditions. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Trying out for a show that reaches millions of viewers can be nerve-wracking. But compared to the in-person auditions, Elfar said she’s noticed that contestants aren’t as nervous auditioning virtually. Many are performing from the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by family and loved ones. 

“You literally can be anywhere,” she said. “If you’ve ever thought about it, and you’re just kind of unsure or whatever, now is the chance to do it, because it’s never been easier.”

The new season is set to air sometime in 2021, although a specific date hasn’t been announced. On Wednesday, the show did confirm that judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry — who is having a daughter this summer — will return for the upcoming season. 

Will the show, which went virtual for the live episodes in April, continue to film remotely next season? Elfar said “American Idol” is taking things day by day.

In the meantime, the show is putting all of its energy into the virtual auditions — a format Elfar said could continue even after the pandemic subsides. 

“I could see it being a part of the future of ‘American Idol,’” she said. “But right now our priority is the auditions, really looking for that next superstar. This in my opinion is the best part of the show because this is the time when we’re finding the next ‘American Idol.’” 

To sign up and learn more about the virtual audition process, visit the official website for “American Idol.”