Luke Bryan has found it "very, very tough" not giving hugs to American Idol hopefuls who have struggled with the audition process.

The fourth season of the rebooted talent show returned to U.S. screens on Sunday night, with Luke reprising his role as a judge alongside Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.

However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic made things somewhat different when it came to filming, as Luke told People.

"The interesting thing is just trying to navigate all of the new rules of COVID-19," he explained.

"One tricky thing is a lot of times during the audition process, contestants will get very, very emotional and it will be an emotional situation for them," the country singer went on.

"The fact that me and Lionel and Katy can't walk out there and do the human element - hug and show support and love, is very, very tough," he shared.

Reflecting: "When someone is hurting and they're emotional, you want to console them and hug them and love on them to help them through" Luke lamented that not being able to show physical support for the contestants can be "heartbreaking."

However, Luke insisted that other than that, American Idol will largely "look and feel the same".

"At the core of it, it's all about those wonderful singers and talented singers walking in the door and really blowing our minds as judges," he smiled, adding: "I think through all of the Covid restrictions and rules, we've been able to really, really put an amazing show together, and very excited to see some of the talent that we've been able to find."