Luke Bryan will return to “American Idol” for a live broadcast tonight, sources tell Variety, after being sidelined from last week’s first live episode of the season — and also tonight’s Academy of Country Music Awards — as a result of contracting COVID-19.
Shortly after this story was first published, Bryan tweeted (and the “Idol” account quote-tweeted) a short video message in which he declared, “Hey guys, it’s Luke. I’m back and feeling awesome and I’m so glad to be back at the judges’ table.”
The country superstar being cleared for a return to work suggests, under current protocols, that he has tested negative for at least two weeks now. If that’s true, it leaves questions about the timeline of Bryan’s diagnosis and recovery, as it was only last Monday, April 12, that he announced on social media he had contracted the virus and would be unable to appear on that night’s episode, where he was replaced as a judge by Paula Abdul.
If the two-week rule is in place and being honored, his return tonight means Bryan would actually have been testing negative by the time of last Monday’s announcement, yet benched at the time nonetheless for still being within the two-week safety window for producing consistent negative results after a positive test.
Representatives for Bryan and “American Idol” did not return requests for comment on his status or timing issues this past week.
Bryan was known along “Idol” staffers not to have received any vaccinations prior to coming down with COVID. Unlike most others on the set, his home state is not California. Legally, at least, he would have had to fly back to Tennessee to get the vaccine after the process opened up to all adults in Nashville on March 31.
It’s believed Bryan put that return visit to Tennessee off at the time vaccination slots fully opened there to stay in Los Angeles, not just to work on “Idol” but to promote a new album release. He appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to talk about the album on April 7. It’s not clear when that talk-show appearance was recorded, or if Bryan was subsequently believed to have had COVID at the time of the taping.
Although Bryan only tweeted that he would be out for the April 12 episode, Abdul — who, like Lionel Richie, is said to be fully vaccinated — was put on standby to make further appearances.
Bryan returned to Tennessee after his positive diagnosis and was said to have been relaxing and fishing during his time away from L.A. Whether he got vaccinated during his time back home is unknown.
After the singer’s positive COVID test, everyone working on the set of “Idol” was tested, and no one else came up positive, sources say. It’s not clear when he was last on the set, but non-live episodes were being filmed with an in-person audience on April 1. At that time, the series was requiring COVID tests for audience members, who were required to be masked and socially distanced in “pods,” as well as for the entire cast and crew.
Bryan’s new release, “Born Here Live Here Die Here (Deluxe Edition),” which features six new tracks not on the original album, came out April 9. He appeared on other shows that week besides Kimmel’s, although the other appearances — including one on “Good Morning America” — were filmed remotely.
Assuming Bryan has indeed been cleared for his “Idol” resumption, the thumbs-up came too late for him to be reinstated as a performer on tonight’s Academy of Country Music Awards, which is being broadcast live (with some pre-taped performances) from several locations in Nashville.
The superstar’s absence from the ACM Awards may go unmentioned on the show, but the virus won’t, as the show is set to unveil a series of PSAs the host organization did in conjunction with the Ad Council that will feature Eric Church, Darius Rucker and Ashley McBryde receiving and talking up vaccinations.
Tonight’s “American Idol” episode is themed around Oscar-nominated songs. Monday’s show will feature performances by former “Idol” judge Harry Connick Jr. and former contestant Lauren Daigle as part of “Comeback Week.”