Harry Connick Jr, confirmed that he will definitely be returning to American Idol for next season, first, on Live! With Kelly and Michael, he answered, “I’ll be back!” when asked if he’d be returning for season 14.
And in a conference call with reporters today, Harry said, “I’ve had a blast. I’ve gone through my negotiation process and I’m gonna be coming back next year! I don’t know about Jen and Keith, I would hope that they are able to come back too. It’s just been an amazing journey. I look forward to doing it again.”
For the record, Jennifer has already confirmed to Extra that she is currently in negotiations with Idol to return next season. It’s been widely reported that ALL 3 judges plan to be back!
Check BACK to this post for updates! I’ll be adding more Q&A from today’s conference call with Harry…
How would he define the chemistry between the three judges? “It’s really tough to fake that. It’s live TV. We spend a lot of time with each other–from the audition stage to backstage, to travelling. They are great to be with. Keith is an immensely talented, super bright, fun guy. Impossible not to fall in love with him. He’s just terrific. And Jen is as lovely and bright as you would hope. It’s a great combination of us hanging out having fun and being judges on a competition that is to be taken very seriously for these competitors. They’re putting their professional careers at risk, like getting up in front of us every week. It spans the gamut and I’ve had a blast.”
What does he think are the strengths of each Alex, Jena and Caleb to go all the way? “They all have strengths and they ‘re so different. It makes for an amazing competition. Caleb is a very big, dynamic performer, with a big strong voice. Jena has such variety in her song choices and in her performances–from ballads to Benetar. Then you have Alex who has these little idiosyncracies and smaller more delicate performances–all this little minutia that goes into his performances. They’re all 3 very strong, very different. And they all have pretty solid fan bases. It’s kind of anybody’s race at this point.
Did he see those three getting this far early on in the auditions? “It’s impossible to say, because when we picked all three of them, we would hope that they would end up here. But we also thought that about the Top 13 and the Top 30. You just don’t know who is going to have the goods to continue. We saw some people that got voted off early that we though could have won. It’s much more than the singer that we heard on that very first day. There is so many things that go into winning American Idol Those things start to surface as time goes on. I’m proud of these three. It’s been a long journey.”
Looking back on earlier rounds, are there any judging decisions that he wishes he would have done differently? Or somebody they missed early? “All you can do is make a reaction based on that performance in that room at that time. I don’t have any regrets. Were there people that didn’t get through to Hollywood week that could have won American Idol? Quite possibly. If you’re honest and spontaneous, then you can’t really be wrong. It’s not about ‘We made a mistake, we should have voted that person through.’ At that point, it was a majority decision, and we voted people through that we thought could make it. And the people that didn’t get voted through we didn’t think on that day had what it took–whatever that ‘it’ is. I feel pretty confident that we put the right people through.”
What was it about Jena Irene–a wild card–that the panel noticed and made them want to push her through? “She just seemed unusual. She’s a great singer. If you take that out of it. She just had a mystique about her and kind of a…I think I called it a ‘sleeper’ early on. She just seemed like somebody who would keep coming back, and coming back and coming back. We couldn’t have predicted exactly how that would have happened. When you watch her week to week, it’s like ‘Oh. That’s what it is.” You would hope that she would take advantage of the potential that we saw in her. She has. Her song choices. She sang ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ last week, which was a very strong performance for her. She’s made some good decisions.”
Harry has talked a lot about music theory and specific musical ideas and thoughts during performances. Is that something that he wanted to bring to the show? “I guess so. I like to keep it kind of wide open. All I really wanted to do was sit in a chair and be honest. Whether that required me to be specific and technical, or praise worthy or whatever. I always just wanted to be honest and specific. It wasn’t like I was ‘I’m going to go out there and give a music lesson every week.’ It wasn’t like that. But there was some instances where I thought it was appropriate to get little more technical. But you have to do that in doses, because it is a primetime entertainment show, as well as a music competition. Finding the balance, I think, was an important thing for me.”
If he had to do it over again, would he rather be a mentor than a judge? “I’m real satisfied with being a judge. It’s been great. I’m looking forward to doing it again. Being a mentor is so fulfilling too. A completely different job. One is pre-performance, one is post-performance. All of the preparation that goes into getting somebody ready for a performance, and helping them figure out what the lyrics mean, and any kind of technical musical things, or performance tips or ‘Hey, how was your week? How is your mom and dad?’ All of that stuff is mentoring. Judge is simply, for me, responding to that particular performance. They’re apples and oranges. I tried mentoring. I loved it. Is there a piece of me that misses that type of interaction? Absolutely. I’ve never even met these contestants before. I said hello to them briefly. But I don’t get to talk to them. I don’t fraternize with them. It’s a very impartial relationship. I miss those qualities of being a mentor, but I love all the things that come with being a judge, too.”
Does he have a favorite performance from an Idol contestant this season? “It’s really tough to say. I can think of three off the top of my head that I thought were great from each one of them. I don’t know if I have a favorite. There have been some absolutely terrific ones. You would hope that would happen. When you see them on the audition day, and they come all this way, and they start to refine, and hone and do all the things that all of us performers do, it’s pretty special to watch.
Can he name the three? “I liked when Caleb did “Still of the Night.” That was a really strong one. I liked when Alex did “Always on My Mind.” I liked when Jena did “Creep.” I thought that was terrific. Those are 3 that come to mind, for sure.”
How does he feel about being labeled the “tough critic” on the panel? “I don’t really pay much mind to it, only because I don’t really see that. People don’t come up to me on the street and say you’re the tough critic. I’ve heard that it’s said. But I don’t really read a whole lot of stuff. I try to be honest. If some people think that’s tough, maybe so. These young performers are already on American Idol getting more support than they’ve ever had in their lives. As a judge, I have to be honest. And if that honesty stings, that’s OK. But many times, the honesty is all about praise. I think they start to realize that. ‘This guy cares about us and he’s going to be honest and sometimes it’s not going to be great, and sometimes it’s going to be great…’ I think ultimately they appreciate that. If they don’t, that’s OK too. I’m just doing the job I was hired to do.”
Will he take a different approach going into next season? “My philosophy is really simple. Honesty and specificity. If I can do both of those things, and continue to remain focused and respectful of them, and act the way I see fit, in a professional manner, I think I’m good to go.”
On his demeanor on the panel while he’s judging contestants, “I thought very carefully about what it means to be a judge. My belief is that this is a competition, first and foremost. This is how I judge–I think it’s important to be impartial. Am I moved by some of the performances? Yeah. Definitely. Some of them have been incredible, and I’ve been very emotional. But I think ultimately–I show the most respect to the performers by being serious and kind of keeping things on an even keel. If I were a mentor, I’d be jumping around like crazy. A cheerleader. That’s what makes for an interesting panel. We have different philosophies about that. (Harry worded his answer VERY carefully, doubling back a couple of times. I think he was being careful not to seems critical of Jennifer and Keith’s markedly different judging styles).
Alex’s performing style is more reserved than either Jena or Caleb. If Alex makes it to the final, will he struggle a little bit against the powerhouse singers? “It depends on what the audience wants to hear. Some people don’t like big powerhouse rock n roll. Some people don’t like intimate performers. It just depends on who likes whom more on the night. It’s really impossible to say. I’ve heard people say ‘I don’t like all that rock n roll. I don’t like all that screaming.’ I’ve heard other people say, ‘Man, he’s going to win. How can you beat that on stage? He’s so powerful and so great.’ The bottom line is–all three of them are great. They’re just different. I’m glad I don’t have to vote. They’re very very different performers.”
Out of everybody, which contestant has changed and evolved the most? “One of the people who probably had the most dramatic change was Malaya. She was like a loose cannon. That’s a very positive thing. She was very emotional, very dynamic, very excited. I saw her get in more control of who she was as a performer on stage. Not any less excited or excitable, or emotional, or anything like that–just more in control. That was a nice transformation to see. Plus, she was 16 year old. The thing about most of these young talents is that they have big ears, they’re listening, and they’re smart. They want to get better. Which is what all of us really want to do. Especially at that age. There have been some pretty remarkable transformations, I think.”
Out of the whole Idol season, what surprised him the most out of what he expected when it started? “It’s such a huge show. It’s such a big machine. I thought there’d be producers climbing all over me saying ‘say this, say that, do this, don’t do that.’ There’s been none of that. It’s been virtually silent I have great communication with the top 3 or 4 people in the production staff that I deal with, who sort of say ‘OK, this is going to be the run of the show. And this is the format. They’ve completely left me alone. You would hope that’s the way it would be. It’s such a giant show! I thought there would be more noise. They’ve been very supportive and really terrific.”
What advice would he give the Top 10? What should they do after the summer tour is over? “I have 10 different things to tell all of them. Because all of them have different strengths and different personalities. It’s not just your voice, obviously–we all know that–that keeps you around in this business. It’s all the other decisions that you make, and what kind of personality do you have and how lucky are you and things like that. I don’t think I would tell any of them the same thing. I would focus on what each of them does well. It’s a very different world than it was when I was coming up. It’s a new model. People are introduced to music in different ways. I think I’d have 10 different conversations, to be perfectly honest.
How does the show’s waning popularity affect him? “I’m going to do the same thing I’m doing whether there’s 50 million people, or 5 million people. It hasn’t affected me.”
On why Idol is still important, “It’s still the best of these shows in terms of format. It’s the cleanest. It’s also been around a long time. It’s very familiar to people. And third, this might be most important–it’s produced the most stars. You could go on and on about the people that have come through this show that have had HUGE careers and name recognition. And I think that it’s a testament to the simplicity of the show and to the creators for constantly reinventing and making it relevant, year after year.”