Harry Connick, Jr. On Being an American Idol Judge: You Have to Tell it Like it Is

On Thursday, Harry Connick Jr. spoke with reporters about the upcoming season of American Idol, including what it’s been like working with fellow judges, Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, and what he feels about the talent so far. Read the Q&A below:

What made Harry want to become an American Idol judge? “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 a mentorship, or a masterclass. 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. 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. Then they called me back last year to do it again. I had a great time. I really, really really enjoyed spending time with those talented young performers. And then, they called and asked me if I wanted to be a judge. which is different than being a mentor. 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. 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. There’s a lot of things about being on American Idol that I really really like. It feels really good so far.”

How are the relationships going with the other judges? “I really love being up there with them. They’re extremely bright people, highly successful, have very strong work ethics, very strong convictions about what they do. They’re the best in the business at their respective jobs and we’re completely different. Different brains, different personalities, different philosophies. I have a lot of experience as a player, as a singer and as kind of an overall entertainer that’s unique to my life. The movies I’ve done are different than the ones Jennifer’s done. And the concerts I’ve played are different than Keith’s. Just by virtue of my own experience, I think I can bring something a little bit different.”

How is the male talent this year? “There’s some crazy guy talent, man, I mean for real. No joke. There’s some guys that are really good. Some great young women too. 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. We just respond to the people we see.

How has adding the guitars impacted the competition? “I think it’s a great thing, because it’s very telling. When people pick up a guitar, and they’re not good players it shows immediately. A. That 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…when they sing, it’s obvious why they’re making the choices they’re making. There’s this weird ‘ignorance is bliss’ type of attitude. These people are coming up there playing guitar in front of Keith Urban, OK? 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 ‘Oh, maybe I’m not quite as good I thought.’ And then, there may be some people who pick it up and ‘Oh, this person sounds great with a guitar’ and that’s the kind of artist they are. I think it’s all around a good thing, because it’s very telling.”

On the importance of the contestants understanding the meaning of the lyrics of the songs that they chose, “That’s huge. Unless they’re singing a tune that’s really a groove based tune, like a lot of those disco tunes I grew up listening to, it’s really not about the lyrics. The lyrics are there to have you sing something. Sometimes they sing tunes that the lyrics 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 oversing it, or maybe it’s kind of one dimensional. There’s 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. Interestingly, to me, that’s not that important to a lot of singers. They just sing, but they’re not connected to the lyric. That’s profound to me. It’s interesting to talk about. I’m glad we have a chance to do it on this great show.”

Did he catch Carrie Underwood on The Sound of Music Live? “I did not see it. I was on a movie set. But I’m a big Carrie Underwood fan. I’m sure she did a great job.”

On being a judge vs a mentor, “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. From the very first contestant we saw in Boston, it just felt very natural. You sit in that chair, and you’re with two people that you respect very much, and like very much. And people start coming in and singing. It all gets turned on. You zoned in on them. You critique that performance and it’s exciting stuff.”

How does it feel in that room without Randy, “Randy Jackson’s great. He’s a great musician. He’s legendary in this show. He’s an icon for the many, many years of great television he provided to all of us. But it’s a new show now. It’s got different producers, different directors, different panel. different contestants. It’s got a new look, it’s got a new feel. It’s a new day for this great show. Fortunately for all of us, Randy is still a huge part of it. I think the show is going to be very lucky to have him on their side.”

On giving bad news to a contestant, “Sometimes you do have to give bad news. And sometimes that’s the best thing these kids can hear, the truth. At ALL times, it’s the best thing they can hear. Sometimes the performances are great, and sometimes the performances are terrible. And I would want to be told. Or I would want my friends, or children to be told the 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 here yesterday that I thought was horrible. I don’t think you have to make personal commentary on people about the way they look–it’s got nothing to do with that. It’s got to do with the performance. I thought it was terrible. I said, “that was terrible.” I couldn’t wait for it to end, and then move on to the next one. They come out and give a killer performance, and you use that. It’s a very healthy, honest, spontaneous environment. It feels right to me.”

Which of the judges is the biggest troublemaker when it comes to joking around? “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 if you HAD to pick the person who was the goofiest, it would probably be me. They all get silly and serious and sentimental. All of us are complex, grown people.”

How do you deal with criticism? “As a kid, when my teachers would critique me, and it happened every day for years and years and years, you develop a tolerance for it, especially when it’s right, when it’s sincere, when it helps you. If I do something wrong, and somebody I know and love says ‘Hey man, that was a mistake’ I’m at the point in my life where I can admit it almost immediately. Criticism from the noise out there, because somebody doesn’t like the way I look or the way I sing, the way I talk–it just doesn’t even register with me.”

Did Keith and Jennifer give him advice about being an Idol judge? “No. I think they knew that I was really familiar with the show. You could tell from the first contestant that this was going to be a lot of fun. It’s not rocket science, right? We go up there, and we just–it’s a very simple concept. They hired us to judge, and all of these young performers line up to be judged. That’s it. They sing, we judge. It’s pretty easy.”

Is there something on the show he’s looking forward to taking part in? “Honestly, I really am just looking forward to being on the show. We work, I don’t know how many days. But if you include the audition days, Hollywood Week, all of these things–every time American Idol is on the calendar, I just bound out of bed with great excitement and enthusiasm. It’s really, really fun. It’s extremely intense. The days are long. It’s very emotional, but it’s just the wildest ride, and it’s a wonderful ride with great people. I really just like being a part of it. I thought it would be like that. But it’s hard to speak on the specifics before you’ve actually done it. I’m telling you, it’s a great, great show, with great people at the helm. We’re just having a ball.”

About mj santilli 33179 Articles
Founder and editor of mjsbigblog.com, 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!