Narberth’s Louis Knight can’t wait until American Idol fans see what can be done with an iPhone.
Three iPhones, to be exact, as the ABC singing competition on Sunday presents this season’s Top 20 contestants, pandemic-style, in performances recorded at their homes.
“They’ve been sending us so much equipment,” the 19-year-old Lower Merion High School grad said Friday of the show’s production staff, which has been working with contestants to get them ready for this weekend’s two-hour show, whose viewers’ votes will determine the Top 10. “We are all creating an entire production, essentially, from our house.”
Contestants who in past seasons would have had the support of a small army of crew members while rehearsing for a glitzy performance onstage in Los Angeles are instead building sets at their homes and getting a crash course in lighting and sound.
“We none of us expected to be doing this, but we’re learning so much,” Knight said. “I’m chatting with the audio engineers through Zoom. ... It’s just been completely invaluable.”
Three iPhones, mounted on tripods, were used to capture the performance Knight filmed earlier in the week at the home he shares with his parents, John and Amanda, his older brother, Max, and his younger sister, Daisy, and their dog, Milo.
“It would be almost impossible to do a fully live show” with so many people, including judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie, and host Ryan Seacrest, appearing from separate places. “But we’re doing it as best we can,” he said.
Knight, who still works part time as a delivery person for Narberth Pizza (which dispatched him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday with 20 free pizzas for staff members there), was an early favorite of the judges, Bryan telling him at his Washington audition, “I think you may be the biggest star we’ve ever had on American Idol.”
Perry, clearly charmed by the English accent the singer-songwriter brought with him when his family moved from England to the United States nearly nine years ago, has compared him to One Direction’s Harry Styles, and Idol mentor Bobby Bones has said Knight is considered this season’s “heartthrob."
All of which is “really nice to hear,” Knight said, but “I don’t think of myself that way. I’m just a silly kid.”
A career in music was always in his sights, but American Idol wasn’t.
Taking a gap year after his 2018 graduation — a year he’d hoped would be “open-ended” — he recorded an EP, Small Victories, and formed a band. The plan: “to just start gigging around Philadelphia as much as I possibly could. And then hopefully start expanding and just start gigging around the East Coast.”
And then American Idol came calling, asking if he’d be interested in auditioning.
“Honestly, at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to,” Knight said. “Because I’ve been working so hard on trying to be a singer-songwriter, and I wasn’t sure ... if I’d be able to showcase my songwriting” on the singing competition.
He learned he could, singing “Change,” a song from Small Victories that he’d written after a friend’s suicide, for his audition. He also realized, he said, “what an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it would be” to be surrounded by “incredible musicians” and “to be able to speak with Lionel Richie, who’s a songwriting legend.”
A bit more than a month ago, Knight and his fellow contestants were in L.A., rehearsing for their Top 20 performances. When it was decided to shut down production there, “they said: ‘Guys, like, we have to send you home. And we don’t know what’s going to happen yet. But we’ll keep you guys informed as we figure out what we can do,’ ” he said.
Now, as production resumes with everyone at a safe distance from one another, they’ve figured it out.
“This whole experience has been a roller coaster and not what any of us expected, but it’s ... incredible to be a part of,” Knight said. “And it’s going to change TV history, filming us all on three iPhones.”