American Idol: Keith Urban on Balanced Judging, Theme Weeks, Using the Save

In a new interview with TV Line, Keith Urban explains why, perhaps, the judges have been sugarcoating their critiques for some of the American Idol XIII contestants:

“It’s a delicate balance,” explains Urban. “On one hand, we’re like the A&R department at a record company, trying to find talent. And that can be a pretty cold experience. There’s no softness or sugar-coating. On the other hand, we’re a TV show, and you don’t want to make people feel squeamish or awkward at home. Hopefully the three of us create a balance.”

In other words, says Urban, “If I just say, ‘Here are all the things you can work on,’ and I don’t mention one thing that was good, then I run the risk of the audience thinking the contestant just isn’t very good. Even if in my head, I’m thinking, ‘The person is excellent — they just need to work on these three things.’”

I can imagine, after the Top 12 a few weeks ago, when the judges frustration with the contestants was so palpable, production instructing the judges to cool it so they don’t give the impression that the competitors aren’t worthy of attention.

At this point, with the ratings sinking, the judges style of critiquing doesn’t seem to make a difference one way or the other.

A couple of other tidbits.

On front runners:

I don’t feel like there’s any single front-runner right now. What I loved about last week’s episode was all these guys and girls have the ability to step up and surprise us — pick an interesting song within the criteria of the theme week, find something that’s a bit of a yin to the yang of who they are and what they do — while maintaining their artistic identity. So it’s any man’s game — or any woman’s game. [Laughs] That’s pretty cool.

Keith thought the theme weeks were “bullsh*t”

I’ve been one of those people who thought, “These theme weeks are just a bunch of bulls***.” Are we really going to find real artists with this process? But what I’ve become interested in is, “Can you maintain who you are within this context?” And these are pretty loose theme weeks. [Songs from Movie Soundtracks] provides an incredible array of songs to pick from. [Laughs] We had [Dexter singing] “Sweet Home Alabama,” which I’d never pictured being in a movie! So you have a million songs to pick from: Which one will show me who you are and work to your advantage? It’s not just about being different — it’s about showing me another side of you. And it either works or it doesn’t — that’s all there is to it.

On the judges save

It’s a bit like gambling, isn’t it? Should we gamble this one now, or will we need this next week for somebody? The Save is a funny thing — using it on the person who the least amount of people voted for? [Laughs] But are they gonna have a miraculous turnaround? That is the spirit of the save — letting somebody work through an ill-conceived performance, and we think they’re better than that. But how long do we keep the save? The interesting thing is, it’s got to be unanimous amoung the three of us — that’s a fascinating little reality of democracy right now at the desk.


You guys never used it last year!
[Howls with laughter] That’s one of the most insane things you could ever imagine, right?

From a TV production standpoint, I could not believe that was left on the table.
Oh, dude, Tell me about it. Are you serious? We’re never gonna use it at all. Really? [Laughs] Good Lord. I guarantee we’ll use it this year.

About mj santilli 30662 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!