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BWW Interviews - Harry Connick Jr. Talks New Season of AMERICAN IDOL
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Megastar of stage and screen, Harry Connick Jr. joins the judge's panel for the 13th season of FOX's AMERICAN IDOL, debuting January 15th (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) with part one of the two-night Season Premiere.
The talented artist spoke to BWW and other members of the press this week about his excitement for his new gig and what he hopes to accomplish on the upcoming season of the singing competition!
Can you talk about how you became a judge this season? What inspired you to want to do it?
Well, my whole life has been a lot of interaction with people who are a lot better than I am whether it's in a one-on-one teaching situation or a clinic or mentorship or master class, and as I got older, I started to be on the giving end of those things. I would spend a lot of time talking to kids in high school, college, even professional people about how they can improve. So, I feel very comfortable in that kind of environment.
So, when AMERICAN IDOL called a few years ago to ask me to be a mentor, it felt like a very natural thing to do. And, then they called me back last year to do it again and I had a great time. I really, really enjoyed spending time with those talented young performers. Then they called and asked me if I wanted to be a judge, which is different than being a mentor because you don't really have the intensity of the interaction but you get to share your views with a lot more people and try to help them develop their talent. So, it just felt like a natural thing to do.
Plus I love television, I love being in front of an audience. I love talking about music. So, there are a lot of things about being on AMERICAN IDOL that I really, really like. So, it feels really good so far.
How are the relationships going with the other judges and what do you bring to the table that's a little different to them?
Well, first of all, I really love being up there with them. They're extremely bright people, highly successful, have very strong work ethics and very strong convictions about what they do and they're the best in the business at their respective jobs. We're completely different. We're different brains, different personalities, different philosophies.
I think what I bring to it is I have a lot of experience as a player, as a singer and as a kind of an overall entertainer that's unique to my own life. It's like the movies I've done are different than the ones that Jennifer's done and the concerts I've played are different than Keith's. So, just by virtue of our own experience, I think I can bring something a little bit different.
Last year, there was a general feeling the male talent wasn't quite up to par with the women. What's your take so far now that you're in Hollywood week?
There's some crazy guy talent, for real, no joke. There are some guys that are really good, some great young women too. So, it's hard to say if it's a 50/50 split. It's impossible to know and we certainly would never try to reach any kind of quota because that would be biased I think, but we just respond to the people that we see, but I guess the feeling is that it's about half and half; maybe two more girls than guys, but I think it's about even.
How has adding the guitars impacted things? Is it a good thing?
I think it's a great thing because it's very telling. When people pick up the guitar and they're not good players, it shows immediately that A: they should put the guitar down, and B: a lot of the decisions that they make as singers are not dissimilar to what they're doing on the guitar. In other words, if you're playing some chords that make no sense, that person can't hear. So, when they sing, it's obvious why they're making the choices they're making.
You also have to remember like there's this weird 'ignorance is bliss' kind of attitude. These people are coming up there playing guitar in front of Keith Urban. That takes some guts; and maybe they don't realize what they're doing and maybe their family and friends have told them that they're really good and you should go on AMERICAN IDOL, but eventually they're going to have a realization that uh-oh maybe I'm not quite as good as I thought, and then, there may be some people that pick it up and you're like 'oh, this person sounds great with a guitar and that's the kind of artist they are.' So, I think it's all around a good thing because it's very telling.
When you served as a mentor last season you put a lot of emphasis on the importance of the contestants understanding the meaning of the lyrics of the songs that they chose in order to give their performance more depth. Is this something you're going to be looking for now that you're a judge?
Yes, that's huge. Unless they're singing a tune that's really a groove-based tune like a lot of those disco tunes that I grew up listening to, it's really not about the lyrics. The lyrics are just kind of there to have you sing something. It's really about a dance tune. So, sometimes they sing tunes that the lyrics really aren't that important and I really don't care, but if they're going to sing a lyric, then you have to really start picking it apart.
Sometimes, they'll listen to you when you say understand the words but then they'll over sing it or maybe it's kind of one dimensional. There is a lot of little roads you can go down for improvement, but absolutely. These are singers. You need to know how to sing a song. You need to know what you're singing about, and interestingly to me, that is not that important to a lot of singers; they just sing but they're not connected to the lyrics. That's profound to me - but it's interesting to talk about. I'm glad we have a chance to do it on this great show.
You have been on the show before in a mentoring capacity and now as a judge. Have you found that the experience is different?
Well, it's different, but it's not a surprise. I know what the show is. So, I was really familiar with what it would be like to be a judge, and from the very first contestant that we saw in Boston it just felt very natural. You go sit in that chair, you're with two people that you respect very much and like very much and people start coming in and singing and that's-it all gets turned on. You zone in on them and you critique that performance and it's exciting stuff.
How has Hollywood Week going without having Randy Jackson there?
Randy Jackson is great. He's a great musician. He's legendary in this show and he's an icon for the many, many years of great television that he provided to all of us, but it's a new show now. It has different producers, different directors, different panel, different contestants. It has a new look. It has a new feel, and it's a new day for this great show. Fortunately for all of us, Randy is still a huge part of it as a mentor and I think the kids are going to be very lucky to have him on their side.
Was it difficult when you had to give bad news during Hollywood week?
Well, there were no surprises because sometimes you do have to give bad news and sometimes that's the best thing these kids can hear is the truth. In fact, all times it's the best thing they can hear, and sometimes the performances are great, and sometimes the performances are terrible and I would want to be told or I would want my friends and children to be told absolute truth. I think you can be diplomatic about it, but you also have to be real. You have to tell it like it is.
There was one group that came out yesterday that was, I thought, horrible. I don't think you have to make personal commentary on people about the way they look and it's got nothing to do with that. It has to do with the performance, and I thought it was terrible, and I said that was terrible. I couldn't wait for it to end.
And then you move onto the next one and they come out and give a killer performance and then you use that. So, it's a very healthy, honest, spontaneous environment and it feels right to me. There were no surprises, but it feels right.
We've seen some fun clips of you and Keith and Jennifer. Which one of you do you think is the biggest troublemaker when it comes to having fun?
We're all kind of troublemakers in a way that we all kind of goof around and are silly sometimes. I do it a lot because I've been like that since I was a kid. I was kind of the class clown. It's really hard to label people, but I guess if you had to pick the person who's the goofiest, it would probably be me. But they all get silly and serious and sentimental. All of us are complex grown people. So, we all give a little bit of that, but if you had to pick one, it would probably be me.