American Idol judge, Harry Connick Jr. has been making the interview rounds, promoting the upcoming season of American Idol. He as A LOT to say about the talent, format tweaks, and even what went wrong last season, and why.
“We are trying to find someone who can sell records and become a big superstar,” Harry told The Hollywood Reporter. ”Given the talent we’ve seen, that isn’t going to be an issue. We are going to be OK.”
On the New York auditions:
“We had a ridiculous amount of talent through the door,” he said. “At one point, there were 10 unanimous yeses. That has never happened before. It was really encouraging.”
On Adam Lambert joining the NYC auditions while Keith Urban attended his father-in-law’s funeral:
“He was terrific, and having the perspective of someone who has been a contestant was really unique,” he said. “It was so unfortunate, the circumstances having Keith not being there, but you couldn’t find a better replacement for him. Those shows were exciting. It was really cool.”
Last season’s stunt, where Hollywood hopefuls were shuffled off to an airplane hangar on the first day to sing in a “do or die” round–Harry admits it was a mistake. “One of the ideas Idol learned what not to do,” he said. But he loves the combining of the performances and eliminations into one episode:
“This is a fresh new approach and it’s going to be a really energetic, jam-packed show, and I think that is what Idol needs right now.”
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Harry discussed last season’s mistakes at length.
I think what I learned last year is that being a mentor and being a judge are really different. As much as I’d like to think whatever two cents I throw in would profoundly change or help these young performers, it doesn’t work like that. Take a 16-year-old singer. I get to talk to them for 30 seconds a week. That’s not enough. When I see them backstage, I walk the other way. I don’t want anything to sway my judgment. I’m there to judge that one performance. I don’t go to rehearsals. I just show up and respond. I would think that they would start growing by leaps and bounds because of what we’re telling them. It doesn’t work that way. This year, we are looking for people with more of a complete package, more suited for the “Idol” experience. It’s a very fast intense ride. Not everyone is cut out. Some are too shy, too quiet. They might have great careers but ‘American Idol’ is a freight train. You have to be of a certain type of personality to handle it.
He admits that Season 13’s winner, Caleb Johnson–although a great stage performer–was too “niche” to be an Idol superstar:
Because ultimately, what ‘American Idol’ is looking for is a superstar. People who can sell a pile of records and win Grammys, be a force in the entertainment business. That is what we are specifically looking for. As much as I liked Alex Preston and Sam Woolf and Caleb, it would take extraordinary drive and luck to be able to take those kinds of niche sounds, as great as they are, and make them into cross-platform successes. Nothing against them. It’s really really really hard to do. The people competing this year are more sort of broad spectrum performers.
However, Harry added, “In terms of being a pop star” runner-up, Jena Irene, “was the one that came closest.”
On “tweaks” made to improve the Idol casting process, Harry says interviewing prospective contestants was new and eye opening:
Going in, I definitely had my opinion about what I thought I could do to make the show. Everyone contributed ideas. Some stuck. Some didn’t. Another thing I thought would be important was this opportunity to talk to them. There was one young woman who came in to the hotel room [where the trio of judges held these five-minute interviews.] She said she didn’t know how to communicate except when she was on stage. She said she was very social awkward. I didn’t know that. Watching her on stage, she had a distant, aloof quality about her. I’m thinking, ‘Boy, that’s not going to connect.’ That was a judgment based on what I saw. Turn out, it was quite the contrary. She was trying to find a way in as opposed to keeping herself out. It changed the way I looked at her as a performer. That was a good thing.
Also important to the Idol audition process: The new “showcase” round, where the Top 48 performed live at the Hard Rock cafe in Hollywood:
I came in thinking some people were going to absolutely kill it. It was almost the opposite. There were people I thought would rise to the occasion. They didn’t do well. Other people I had kind of forgotten about came up and just killed it. It was really really telling. It was good for them to give them a slightly larger ramp before the big Idol stage, which is very daunting. Very few seasoned performers stand 30 feet in front of the band. It’s rare. I don’t do that! I’m up there with the band. It’s a tough deal. It’s tough for them. I’m glad we had a chance to prepare them.
On new mentor, Big Machine Records honcho, Scott Borchetta, Harry said,
“His job really begins after the finale. That’s when he’s really going to kick in. He’s going to take that winner and turn him or her into a star.”
And, Harry’s thoughts on the Top 24:
“It sounds like I’m pulling your chain but it will be tough for people to decide how to trim them down. There is a lot of diversity. How do you compare a country singer with an R&B singer? Both are amazing! It’s going to come down to who moves people the most. The range is crazy. One person has never performed in front of anybody before. One person is 15. Another just turned 29. We had to turn away some ridiculous talent. What we’re left with, we have the gamut. Everything from great personality to great singers to great performers to people playing instruments. It’s going to be good.”
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