Television is a tool that allows audiences around the world to share in the same story with each new episode in their favorite series. While embarking on any project, the storytelling aspect is what fuels Jonathon Ridgard. Number of viewers, awards and nominations, commercial success: these are all things that this Producer knows are not possible without focusing on that key aspect of simply telling stories.
“I have always had a passion and interest in people. I love meeting people and finding out about who they are, where they are from, why they are here and what they want,” said Ridgard.
With an outstanding career in reality television, Ridgard has become an industry leader far beyond his home country of Ireland. Having worked with icons like Simon Cowell on The X Factor and Gordon Ramsay on The F Word, Ridgard is extremely in demand for his talent and knowledge in his chosen field. He has worked around the world on the Got Talent franchise, including Britain’s Got Talent, Australia’s Got Talent, Asia’s Got Talent, and the celebrated America’s Got Talent, and his work on the 2012-2013 season of Undercover Boss helped lead the show to win an Emmy in “Outstanding Reality Program”.
“Jonathon is one of my favorite producers to work with in my 20 plus years in the reality realm. He’s reliable and hardworking, endlessly creative, and has the unique ability to do it all with a smile on his face. It doesn’t matter if he’s setting up a complicated shoot, coming up with a creative way to visually tell a story, directing cameras in the field or putting it all together in post-production, you know Jonathon is going to tackle whatever he takes on with a refreshingly positive attitude, which can sometimes be scarce in this industry. Jonathon is an especially good producer because he has the ability to see projects through from conception to delivery. While many producers are only experienced in one aspect of production, Jonathon has experience in every single step of the process, which makes him an invaluable asset to any team he’s on. He understands each small piece of the puzzle, but because of his keen eye for storytelling, he never loses sight of the bigger picture,” said Andrew Llinares, Executive Producer of Dancing with the Stars and Former Executive Producer of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.
Currently, Ridgard finds himself working on the reboot of American Idol. This is his second season with the show, as his worked on the fifteenth and final season on FOX back in 2015. At the time, the show’s judges were Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr., and Jennifer Lopez. Now, returning in March, the show will be on ABC and features Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry as the judges that will help guide the contestants through the show on their way to a recording contract.
“I love that with this show you truly find out about a person. The storytelling is incredible and from the very first audition, to how they cope at Hollywood Week, through Final Judgement and onto the live shows, audiences get to watch a person grow from stage to stage. It is the most heartwarming and rewarding part of the show. Finding someone from a small town in America, who might lack confidence but have the biggest voice, and see them grow and grow into a star gives me chills,” said Ridgard.
After working on several seasons of America’s Got Talent, the executive producers were extremely impressed with Ridgard’s work and style of producing. Therefore, when the final season of American Idol on FOX was being discussed and planned, Trish Kinane and Megan Michaels Wolflick, Executive Producers, reached out to Ridgard to join the team. For the Senior Producer, it was a dream come true to work on a show he had watched as a child, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“Growing up, I always remember watching American Idol and being a fan of the show. It was always beyond my wildest dreams that I ever thought I would get the opportunity to not only work on the show, but to be an integral part of the senior producing team – making vital decisions, producing interviews and working with the on-screen talent,” said Ridgard.
For Ridgard, working on American Idol is an amazing, challenging and creative job. As Senior Producer, he is involved in every aspect of producing the show. At the beginning of working on each new season, he goes out on the road for months, travelling to every part of America to audition people for the show. By being the only show that travels to remote locations in the United States, it allows them to find more “diamonds in the rough” than simply travelling to a few big cities. At this stage, Ridgard and his team also shoot, direct, and produce their big “travel shots.” These are drone shots and city b-roll of the American Idol bus travelling the landscapes of America.
Upon reaching the round of auditions in front of the judges that are televised, Ridgard’s role changes and he takes on many responsibilities. He produces and directs a large number of interviews and segments that make up the packages of the show. He also produces the judges.
Once all the footage is shot, he is then instrumental in taking all of it and putting it together, but this is where Ridgard’s passion for storytelling shines. It is a puzzle that can be put together many ways, but only the best way will captivate worldwide audiences. It is during this stage where the pressure is on to be the very best storytellers in the business. There are constantly multiple cameras on each scene, resulting in countless hours of footage to go through. Each angle can portray a different side of the story. Ridgard makes sure all of this footage is as organized as possible and he and his team therefore implemented a “docu system” to do so. This is an all-access google doc that all producers can upload what they shot, with who and any extra information. The story producers, on film days, will constantly monitor this to ensure they are getting enough footage from everyone. This is imperative for when the team gets back to post-production to put together these packages in a timely and efficient manner. With Ridgard’s help, each story is told in the most dynamic way possible.
“I began working with Jonathon when he was a Senior Producer on American Idol Season 15 and have looked forward to every opportunity to work with him since. Jonathon’s contribution to each project he’s been a part of (with or without me) has been tremendous, not only because of his unique perspectives, creative ideas and tireless work ethic, but also for the positive team morale he creates with his magnetic personality. Most importantly, Jonathon is trustworthy. I can always rely on him to tell compelling stories while staying professional and respectful with the subjects of our shows. And he will never crack under the pressure we are so often put under in this industry. Jonathon has absolutely lived up to, and exceeded, the incredible reputation he brought with him to the US creative community and it’s been an honor and a pleasure to share my own television experience with him. There’s no doubt he’ll continue to impress in this industry,” said Ali Zubik, Senior Supervising Producer for American Idol.
Working on American Idol has been a great experience for Ridgard, and why he instantly said yes to going back to work on the show’s reboot. Getting to travel America and go to the places many wouldn’t think of, meeting thousands of hopefuls who want to change their lives for whatever reason by auditioning for the show, finding out real people’s real stories, finding that one amazing singer and getting that feeling that this could potentially be the next "American Idol", and working with the best team, these are things that Ridgard wouldn’t trade for the world.
“The greatest feeling in the world is hearing friends, colleagues and peers talking about the shows I have worked on. Having that ‘watercooler’ moment after our show has aired, or hearing people root for a contestant they loved, is completely indescribable. It pushes me to want to work harder, to tell a story in a different way, to be more creative and to push myself and the team to break new boundaries in television storytelling,” he concluded.
Be sure to check out the return of American Idol on Sunday March 11th at 8 p.m. on ABC.