It’s time for our latest “American Idol” panel.
Season 13 starts on Wednesday and I can tell you that the new judging panel of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. isn’t the toxic cesspool that FOX created that season when they thought drama between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey would be a big draw. The judges have a nice chemistry and, at least in the first episode, it’s true that the good singers have been foregrounded and there are only a couple time-wasting joke auditions.
Expect the judges and Ryan Seacrest to talk about putting the emphasis back on the contestants as they meet with the Television Critics Association press tour.
Click through for the full live-blog.
1:12 p.m. “Country, like any genre, it’s cyclical,” Keith Urban says to the random opening question about why there aren’t that many females on the country charts these days. Jennifer Lopez is wearing a purple top and a maroon skirt. She can get away with that.
1:13 p.m. “With Steven [Tyler] and Randy it was one thing and with Harry and Keith it’s another,” J-Lo says, adding that she’s lucky enough to be sitting between two people she likes and respect. They’re fans of “American Idol,” so it will seem sparkly and fresh. J-Lo says she never planned on doing “Idol” two straight years, so she paused and didn’t do a third year before returning. “When they asked me back this year, the decision was just as difficult, because of the time frame,” she says, but she’s “having a great time.”
1:15 p.m. Is it important that everybody gets along? “I think when you watch a show, you want to see people having fun and having a laugh,” Seacrest says. “It shines throughout all of the auditions and it will be spectacular once we get to go live,” he promises.
1:15 p.m. A random question about Crystal Bowersox saying that Harry was a good mentor. Crystal Bowersox? Weird. Harry remembers going to the first finale at Debra Messing’s behest and he’s been watching it ever since. He says he grew up with tough mentors and he’s had a blast. “I love the idea of fostering talent,” Harry says, predicting that Randy Jackson will be great at his mentor job this season. “‘American Idol,’ it’s the best of its kind. The reason why it has the track record it does is because of the formula,” he says, repeating that they’re having a great time and there’s great talent.
1:18 p.m. Does Harry see any singers from his Great American Songbook background? He says they only saw four or five singers from that category, but the songs will still outlast all of them. “To just come out and sing one of those American Standard things? Not easy,” he says, but he notes it’s also hard to sing “Titanium.”
1:19 p.m. “The first thing that comes to mind is ‘Boy, wouldn’t they benefit from a great musical education?'” Harry says of fabulously talented, but untrained singers. “Somehow in music, it’s OK not to know anything about your craft. I profoundly disagree with that,” he says. He thinks all passionate singers would benefit from learning more about their voices. They saw some music students and some totally untrained singers.
1:21 p.m. Why was Randy Jackson kept as a mentor? “Or would he just not leave?” the questioner asks. Trish Kinane says that this season, there will be a currently unnamed Randy Jackson Workshop worked into the show. Post-Hollywood Week and Green Mile, but before the live shows, we’ll see a two-day workshop hosted by Randy Jackson, offering educational opportunities. How to choose a song! What sort of artist are you! What’s your style! How do you look after your voice! “And Randy is very much putting this together, because he’s been through this for 12 years,” EP Trish Kinane says. “That will carry through into the live shows,” she hopes.
1:23 p.m. Why do they think “The Voice” is more popular right now? “I don’t think ‘The Voice’ is more popular than our show,” Kinane protests and claims that “Idol” remains the Gold Standard. “‘The Voice’ is a good show. I think there’s room for both of them in this market,” she says. Harry tells a complicated analogy about how on his honeymoon, he didn’t see any other women. I think he’s talking about “Idol” and other shows. But maybe not.
1:24 p.m. Was Keith’s experience as bad last season as it seemed? “Naw, Ryan and I worked it out,” Keith jokes. He talks about how this time around, he and the other judges had dinner together on their first night and they share a mutual respect for the kids auditioning. And what changes do we have? “We didn’t want to do anything radical, because frankly this is the original format and it works,” Kinane says. They made little changes to “freshen” the show. They’ve made little tweaks. They examined the talent-finding process, which included the bus search, which was expanded. In the auditions, they were looking at the moment between the holding room and the judging room, which is how we got the new element called The Chamber. [I’ve seen it. It’s OK. It’s not a huge change.] People do different things in those last segments. Viewers were apparently fed up with the middle rounds, which will be condensed into a three-night Rush Week. There will be a new intro to Hollywood Week. “It’s all ‘Idol,’ but it’s a million of these little tiny decisions,” she says.
1:29 p.m. Harry says that “work ethic” is what unites the three judges. “These folks, Ryan too, everybody up on this panel, it’s insane how hard they work, how seriously they take their work,” Harry says. “We have similar hearts. We have a similar feeling for what we’re doing. We love music. We love our children. We have a sense of family,” J-Lo says. “We have a very shared spirit,” Keith says.
1:33 p.m. They’re similar, the judges, but they don’t have the same preferences. “I don’t believe you have to couch your critique in some sort of compliment,” Harry says. He remembers yelling at the TV watching “Idol.” He doesn’t think he’s mean, but he admits to being blunt and direct. “I love them. We really do. But we’ve gotta get on with the show. If somebody can’t sing, they’ve gotta get home,” he says. Harry think it’s important that his criticisms have specificity.
1:37 p.m. “You don’t want to have to say no to the person who’s singing your song,” J-Lo admits. She also says that sometimes it’s overwhelming when people say that she’s their idol. She says that in the moment, she’s embarrassed, but when she goes home it means a lot to her.
1:41 p.m. Have the producers given any thought to expanding the song list or changing the theme weeks? “We have a new approach for the music themes this year,” Per Blankens say, claiming the song list is still there, but they’re going to work different to help the kids find song that mean more to them or reveal more about them.
1:43 p.m. Three judges versus four… Ryan says that it’s fantastic to have these three, because they’re on the same page. Trish Kinane promises that, gender-wise, there’s more balance this year than in last year’s female rout. Kinane also denies speculation — I’ve certainly speculated this — that “Idol” rigged things to get a female winner last year, swearing that’s just the talent that came through the door. But this year there’s more balance.
1:46 p.m. Keith says that the Hollywood Week Group Night displays “tenacity.” You have to find the people who don’t collapse under the pressure. Harry says he sometimes had bad nights, but he never collapses. He said he sometimes hoped people would forget the lyrics just to see how people respond to adversity.
That’s all, folks…