ST. LOUIS — The last season of TV’s “American Idol” was, by all accounts, a season of worsts.
Season 12 saw the Fox show’s ratings plummet to all-time lows, on-air tension between new judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, a winner without much sales appeal and the exit of Randy Jackson.
Enter Harry Connick Jr.
The New Orleans crooner joins the judging table for Season 13. He’ll sit next to returning judges Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban when the show begins airing in January.
Looking at last season makes one wonder what Connick was thinking in joining the show.
“I always liked ‘Idol.’ I’ve been a fan since the first year,” said Connick, who has appeared as a mentor on the show. “I got to know the people there, and I understand the show. They called and asked if I wanted to be a judge. Some things had to be worked out, but they worked out great and I’m having a great time.
“The only hesitation was that I had other things going on, and it was a matter of could I do it. But any chance I get to be around music or creative people, things that are stimulating, are things that I like to do and ‘Idol’ is all of those things,” he says.
“And it’s live TV. It’s as much of a tightrope as it can get.”
That tightrope was tested watching Minaj and Carey. Connick won’t comment on last season. Instead, he said, “People are going to like this season. It’s three judges who deeply care about why they were hired. They’re taking it seriously. Everybody comes in, and we listen and we have a great time,” he said. “I like Jen, I like Keith and they like me. We have fun off-camera and on-camera.”
Connick also said the focus of the show should be the contestants. “We’re ready for ‘Idol’ to go back to a Cinderella story. It’s not about whatever’s going on behind the judges’ table. It’s our job to make sure whoever makes it to the final 10 or whatever is in a dogfight. They have to be throwing down. People want to see talent, not all the novelty. They want great singers and great entertainment, and they want to see them fight it out.”
He said he’s bringing an honest and concise style to the judging table.
“I try not to send mixed messages. If it’s not very good, I like to tell them it’s not good and the answer is no. If it’s good I can say that was terrific,” he said.
When Connick said he had to carefully consider “American Idol” because of his schedule, he wasn’t exaggerating. This year, he released two albums.
“Smokey Mary” was named for the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade float created by the Krewe of Orpheus, the super krewe that Connick co-founded in 1993.
He followed up “Smokey Mary” with “Every Man Should Know,” a collection of his original songs.
Connick said did two albums this year because of the abundance of material he’d written. “It wasn’t intended this way. I couldn’t fit it on one record and it was a lot of material to dump on people.”
With “Smokey Mary,” said Connick, he started with the lyrics and from there went to the melodies, harmonies and rhythm, and let the groove dictate itself.
“Every Man Should Know” is even more of a mix. Usually, Connick said, his albums are all one thing, all instrumental jazz tunes, all big band tunes or all love songs.