ABC/Stewart Cook(LOS ANGELES) — American Idol returns Sunday with judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie heading back behind the judges’ table.  The trio dropped by Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Wednesday and teased what’s in store this season.

Katy, Luke and Lionel will once again sit through the usual parade of hopefuls — from the super talented to the just plain awful and it turns out that the job of breaking the bad news often falls to Richie, who told Kimmel he tries to temper the criticism with a little positive reinforcement.

“It’s my job to basically go in and say, ‘listen, I build you up to the point where you made it this far, but do you have a shot in this competition?  Absolutely not.’  But I don’t leave them broken.”

Despite having three seasons under his belt, Richie says Bryan and Perry both manage to keep him on his toes.

“Whatever my comfort zone was, they have taken me to a new level of just, by the seat of my pants,” he admits. “I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. But going out on that show, every time we go out, I just hold my breath and go, ‘God, take me to the next level.'”

In spite of that, Perry knew Richie would be a perfect addition to the judges’ table.

“We had a drink together and he was telling me stories about Diana Ross and Whitney Houston and Prince and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got just such an incredible history and legacy and wisdom.’ And so, [the producers] like asked me, ‘Who do you think should be on the show, who’d be really complimentary, I was like really, Lionel Richie would hold it down so hard,’ and he has.”

American Idol returns Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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