When the program American Idol first aired on June 11, 2002 there was no presumption that it would lead to a revolution in television on a global scale. Talent competitions and reality TV were new by no means but Idol gave us a unique sense of the lives of the contestants and personality that came from the judges as well. When it ended its run of fourteen years (on April 7, 2016) it had given us such music success stories as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, David Cook, and numerous others. The show is returning after a brief hiatus, this time on ABC (March 11, 2018). There may have been no predetermined idea about what American Idol would be more than a decade and a half ago but the new iteration of the beloved program has a great deal to match in the minds of fans and critics. While the familiar face of host Ryan Seacrest will be returning, new judges and new contestants will be prevalent. One face that you won’t see but which is very much in action behind the scenes of Idol is producer Ed Thomas. Trish Kinane (EP of American Idol) brought Thomas aboard specifically for the purpose of adding humor to the show. Ed’s background in the UK’s massive hit Sam and Mark’s Big Friday Wind Up, James Corden’s Drop the Mic, the reboot of To Tell the Truth, and others has vetted him as a prominent producer of his generation…which Kinane and Idol are using to their great benefit.
Ed’s reputation as an extraordinary producer is global, which is how Kinane discovered him. While there are literally hundreds of reality TV producers, the pool of those who specialize in comedy is miniscule. Trish wanted the new version of Idol to possess a markedly light tone and Thomas’s previous work on shows such as the BAFTA award winning Celebrity Juice had caught her attention. The initial meeting between the two resulted in him being hired on the spot. Ed was tasked with bringing his talent to the host and judges of the show. Creating all of the questions for judge interviews and scripting/producing backstage moments like a surprise birthday party for Katy or Luke Bryan crashing a fan’s wedding fell into his responsibilities. The most formidable challenge though lay in acclimating to Ryan Seacrest’s style of hosting. Hailing from the UK (Ed produced the two time BAFTA award-winning series Sam and Mark’s Big Friday Wind Up for the show’s hosts who were 2nd and 3rd place winners on Britain’s Pop Idol), Thomas is more familiar with the UK version but still highly aware of American Idol. ABC kept the incredibly popular Seacrest who is inseparable from the program’s brand and Ed studied his approach incessantly to understand and complement the tone which the show’s host had long ago established.
His role as a producer on the new American Idol is not constricted to working with its host and judges. As a producer who also writes, Ed often finds himself creating for marketing and integration proposals on AI. For Macy’s, the producer created a script and produced a piece which include Seacrest, an Idol contestant, and a stylist from Macy’s in a very natural and comfortable setting. A much different premise is presented in a bit Thomas created to plug the film “Hotel Transylvania 3.” The producer created the piece for Adam Sandler who, as the character Drac, calls Seacrest in an effort to convince him that American Idol needs more monsters on the show. When Ryan doesn’t agree to Drac’s suggestions, Drac decides to take matters into his own hands, hosting the show himself. While the premise is not overly complex, Ed relates that this is sometimes the most effective approach.
The relaunch of American Idol has a lot to live up to. Simply presenting the same style which the previous version of the show possessed would be a step backwards. Attaining a producer like Thomas who is able to infuse his comedic sensibilities into the show’s presentation is a move forward. While enjoyable for him, Ed confirms that it means that it isn’t void of growing pains for him. He states, “The most challenging part of my involvement in American Idol has been making my mark on such an established show. When you join a production like American Idol, which has been running for so long and had such huge success, it can be really difficult to get up to speed with how everything works and find your place in such a large scale production. I feel that I’ve successfully managed to do this thanks to my skillset. It often comes down to trust and you have to earn that trust. Ryan Seacrest is arguably the biggest and best TV host in America and has no doubt worked with countless producers over the years. His standards are incredibly high, which is part of the reason he is so successful and he rightly expects his producer to match his standards. This is an example of what’s professionally so intriguing about my involvement in the show; working alongside the best continually challenges you to up your game. Possibly the most unexpected benefit of being a part of the American Idol family is that it has given me the chance to see a lot of America. The audition tour took me to great cities like New York, New Orleans, Nashville, and Savannah, allowing me to experience my very own slice of Americana. I absolutely loved arriving in a city and exploring before the judges and Ryan show-up and the hard work began. We would end each trip with a night-out in that city. I gained a real insight into America…and my fellow co-workers after they’ve had a few drinks!