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'American Idol' Tour Director Raj Kapoor on Top 5: 'They All Sing Their Faces Off'


By Fred Bronson | July 15, 2015 8:38 PM EDT

Raj Kapoor is directing his eighth American Idol Live! Tour this summer. His busy schedule is filled with helming live shows for Mariah Carey and Shania Twain in Las Vegas as well as Twain's current national tour, and his other credits include Carrie Underwood's live shows, the latest Rascal Flatts tour and postseason tours for So You Think You Can Dance.

Kapoor sat down with Billboard during a break in rehearsing the 2015 American Idol tour to talk about what makes this latest production different from the first seven he directed.

This is your eighth year directing the summer live tour, but this show is very different from all the others you've done. How did you approach the 2015 tour?

We knew we were going in different venues this year. Idol has evolved and you change with the times. This year's kids are very musical. Last year we made a decision not to have a band for the first time, which was not my favorite decision. This year one of our priorities was to have a band again. You can't really have a show like this with real music and musicians without a band. That was one of the number one priorities. But somewhere along the line there had to be a compromise. We can't really have a band if we're taking all 10 of them, but way in advance they thought we were only taking five this year. It made the most sense economically. Even though there were some really talented kids in the other slots, the whole idea was to take fewer Idols but really showcase them because 19 thought we were really going to have a strong top five. And they were not wrong. They are one of the best top fives that I have worked with. They can all sing, they're all smart, they can all do all these different vocal parts. They're totally supportive with background vocals.

I've been listening to their harmonies during rehearsals and they sound beautiful together.

They are really strong. As a director, one of my biggest challenges has always been how to take group numbers and make them sound good. Even when they've done them on the show, they border on being corny. For me, there's not one corny number in this show. They all sound great. They all sing their faces off and come from a place of authenticity.

I haven't seen a choreographer onstage.

No, we've moved away from choreography. There's a tiny bit in "Lips Are Movin" -- more like some fun moments. We used to do more and there was more staging. These five Idols have such diverse personalities that we're not locking them in to how we want them to move.

There's something else I haven't seen this year -- video screens, which have been an integral part of the summer tour for years.

Again, there have to be certain compromises, but I really don't miss them. We spent more money on music development and music production. We have a really great lighting package and the idea was to be more up close and personal, from them telling stories and personal experiences to song choices, that's what the show is designed to be. I think there's an interesting dynamic happening with touring right now. You're either going all in with video or certain people are moving away from it. It's refreshing to move away from it, and having done the show for this many years, it makes it different to not have video.

Joey Cook is the opening act for the first six shows and then you are bringing in seven other Idols from season 14 to open for specific dates. How were they chosen?

There were so many variables. Some of it was based on availability or hometowns, if we were going to people's hometowns. And we wanted to find Idols whose personality and music fit with the show that we're doing.

'American Idol' Tour Puts Joey Cook Back in the Spotlight -- Along With 7 Other Finalists

Are the guest Idols integrated into the show?

No. They are completely separate. They're an opening act for the main show. The main show doesn't change. We don't have enough time to integrate the Idols into our rehearsals. All of our vocal coaching [was in Clearwater, Florida] as well as our musical direction.

How did you like working with season 14's top five?

They are hard-working, they are focused, they are disciplined. They rehearse in their off-time, they are not messing around. These are some serious artists. They take their careers seriously and they've been a joy to work with. They have a lot on their plate and you can tell that they're a little nervous because there is a lot of material but a week from now they're not going to be thinking about any of it. They're going to be out there performing. This has been school. It's close to a two-hour show. There are a lot of songs and a lot of material and a lot of parts and I could not ask for a better group of kids.