Ireland’s Jonathon Ridgard talks producing ‘America’s Got Talent’ and working alongside his idols

Hailing from Galway, Ireland, Jonathon Ridgard has come a long way both geographically and figuratively since he received his first camcorder at just eight years old. Even at such a young age, he had a passion that was more than just a childhood hobby. Now, Ridgard is a renowned supervising producer in Hollywood, and is responsible for bringing some of your favorite shows to the small screen.

“My parents recently found old home videos where I am running around interviewing everyone in the family. My brother was sick in the hospital, having his appendix removed and I have the camcorder with me, recording an interview with him – asking him how he feels, and to describe what was happening. With this camcorder, I used to film family parties, birthdays, christenings and cut them together to make short videos for people. I guess I always had a keen interest in telling the stories of what was going on in people’s lives,” said Ridgard.

Ridgard is currently busy getting ready for the highly-anticipated ABC reboot of American Idol, premiering March 11, working alongside such superstars as Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry. Ridgard previously produced the show’s 15th and final season on FOX and is glad to be back on such a celebrated program.

American Idol is far from Ridgard’s first taste of international success. This sought-after supervising producer has an esteemed resume, including Simon Cowell’s The X-Factor in the United Kingdom, Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, and Undercover Boss, during which time the show was awarded an Emmy for “Outstanding Reality Program”.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a single highlight of my career. It would probably be working with Simon Cowell. He is someone I grew up watching on TV. He is an incredibly talented Executive Producer and on-screen talent. Working with Gordon Ramsay is also another career highpoint. I served as Senior Producer for his live show. Overseeing a team of producers and associate producers. I was tasked with creating new, interesting and fun pieces that would feature Gordon. I worked with Gordon on these developed ideas and then we would film them and turn them around in post to feature in the following weeks’ episodes. I am a big fan of Gordon, both as a Chef and a television personality. He is one of the nicest and easiest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. And of course, being awarded an Emmy for contribution to Undercover Boss is also an incredible highlight. To be recognized for my contribution to such a successful show at an early age was, and still is, a very proud moment,” said Ridgard.

Ridgard is also known for his outstanding work on Simon Cowell’s Got Talent franchise around the world. Beginning with Australia’s Got Talent in 2010 followed by Britain’s Got Talent and contributing greatly to their success, Ridgard received a call from the show’s Executive Producer, Sam Donnelly, asking him to be a part of the U.S. version for its eighth season. Knowing that America’s Got Talent is one of the most iconic shows on American television, Ridgard immediately accepted. The show was about to go through some big changes, from new judges to a shift in the format, and he was ready to lend his talents to making the show an even greater hit than it already was. Ridgard achieved his goal. Since joining the team, the show has continually grown in ratings each year, something that is almost unheard of for a reality competition show that has been around for over a decade.

“I love that the stories we tell on a show like America’s Got Talent could potentially inspire people to get out there and follow their dreams. Maybe someone at home might see an 8-year-old dancer, or an 82-year-old juggler, or a struggling comedian, and these stories might resonate with them and their own story and it might push them to reach their full potential,” he said.

Working on the show was difficult but immensely rewarding for Ridgard. Not only did he enjoy working closely with the judges, Mel B, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Howard Stern, but he travelled the country to find the talent that would be showcased on screen. Every year there are tens of thousands of applicants looking to be on the show, and it is Ridgard and his team that find the ones that will connect with audiences and therefore make the show a success. Going through such a large pool of applicants and narrowing them down can be hard and Ridgard would sometimes feel the pressure, but he let that fuel him. Not only did he understand that it was important to the show to find the right people, he understood the responsibility he had: people’s lives were in his hands. Ultimately, he made every decision based on what he knew from his vast experience would make good television and which contestants could ultimately go on to win the show.

In addition to this, Ridgard also had to decide how to tell the contestants’ stories. Some of the applicants have sad or traumatic backstories, and Ridgard knew that the way these stories were told were almost more important than the actual act; they could affect the viewers lives and needed to be told sensitively and in a way to inspire the contestant and the millions of viewers around the world.

“Telling people’s stories and getting to travel the United States while being one of the first people to see undiscovered talent and knowing that these people had a chance to win $1 million and go on to worldwide fame, well, it was an invaluable experience,” said Ridgard.

With such vital responsibilities, everyone on set recognized the producing team as the core of the show. They were the ones that worked in and were responsible for casting, setting up auditions and auditioning talent, filming back stories and interviews and ultimately being the go-to people for every other aspect of the show. It’s because of this that the show is successful and Ridgard is very proud of that.

“I was lucky enough to work with Jonathon as a producer on America’s Got Talent in 2012 and I was immediately struck by how creative he is. He walked onto a big team and quickly became a standout producer with his fresh approach to problem-solving in the field, his can-do attitude and ability to motivate the team around him. Many producers aren’t able to both supply creative, amazing ideas to take the show from good to great and execute them well, seeing them through to the final product, but Jonathon is skilled at both. He just gets it, the entire process, which I’m sure comes from his long, established career in this industry back in the UK. I love working with Jonathon as he’s extremely gifted at what he does, and I hope I get a chance to work with him again,” said Lindsay Tuggle, Supervising Producer.

After his tremendous success on America’s Got Talent, Ridgard was then asked to help launch the premiere season of Asia’s Got Talent. The spin-off is billed as the biggest talent show in the world with talent stretching across 15 countries from India through to Japan. Asia’s Got Talent delivered ratings ten times higher than its nearest English-speaking rival on its season one premier. Ridgard was contacted by FremantleMedia Asia to oversee the creation the show, based in Singapore. As a consulting producer, he was tasked with getting the show off the ground, imparting his expertise to the Asia team and showcasing how the Got Talent format was produced. He helped to develop the show from nothing, implementing casting plans in every country from India across to Japan. He was instrumental in casting the show, choosing the very best, interesting and diverse talent across all 15 countries. He also cast the two main hosts. Later, he worked with the full production team so they would understand how to produce interviews, b-roll, and stylized reality scenes that would fit in with the franchise. Asia’s Got Talent was one of the most successful show launches for AXN.

“I feel very proud to have worked on a franchise that is known globally. It’s been a career highlight and seeing the show continue to succeed is incredible to see. Being able to make people’s dreams come true is something that we actually do as producers. As cheesy as it sounds, seeing someone go from small town girl/boy achieving their dreams with the world at their feet is a job that not many people get to do, and it never gets old,” Ridgard concluded.

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