We're four episodes into the 14th season of “American Idol” and while ratings are unquestionably down, the FOX singing competition show has still averaged over 10 million viewers per installment and has yet to fall below a 2.5 rating among adults 18-49. Those are a mere whisper of what “Idol” used to do, but in the 2015 TV landscape, those are numbers that every single network would happily take.
On Saturday (January 17) afternoon, Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Seacrest, Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban, new mentor Scott Borchetta and producers Per Blankens and Trish Kinane sat down with the Television Critics Association press tour…
3:32 p.m. Pacific. Two odd facts: 1) Dana Walden and Gary Newman faced no questions this morning about “Idol” ratings. 2) Jennifer Lopez doesn't have a special throne on the stage.
3:40 p.m. Apparently the “MasterChef Junior” contestants love Keith Urban. Does this happen to him a lot? Urban says he has a much broader audience now than pre-audience and that people who love guitars often connect to him.
3:41 p.m. J-Lo is shiny. She's staring right at me now. And don't tell me she isn't.
3:42 p.m. Harry says that they see a higher percentage of talent in big cities, but small markets have delivered talent as well. Harry thinks that there were the fewest strong auditioners in New Orleans. Ryan says that in New York and LA, the stakes don't seem as high because people may have other options at stardom.
3:43 p.m. One of the season's earliest auditions was somebody Keith played with in the past. There was another contestant who won some competition he was judging. He says you want to be objective, but it's hard. J-Lo remembers contestants from previous seasons.
3:45 p.m. “I just learned to back up,” Ryan says of contestants bursting through the door. “That never gets old for me,” he says of happy contestants and their families.
3:45 p.m. “Studios are still the end game. It's how do you develop the talent,” Scott Borchetta says of getting contestants from reality shows and turning them into stars.
3:48 p.m. “This is not the same industry that Carrie Underwood won and went into,” Keith Urban says, noting that even the definition of superstar is different now. He says it's not as important to sell records anymore. Harry feels like musicians are becoming less indigenous. He says the auditioners in New Orleans didn't sound like they came from New Orleans.
3:50 p.m. People come up to Harry and say that they don't like shows like this because they haven't paid their dues. Harry disagrees. He says that if you've gone through the “Idol” six-month experience, “that is about the best experience that you can get for any musicians.” “I give it up for anybody who will get up on that 'American Idol' stage and take that ride,” Harry says. “Certain people are ready must faster than others for this journey and this show will filter that,” Keith says.
3:53 p.m. Has this show created two different music industries? “I just think there's different ways to do it,” J-Lo says.
3:54 p.m. “We're actually rather pleased that they're down to one per week,” Trish Kinane says. She says each show will be “jam-packed.” She teases that they won't do an elimination at the top of the show, but they have “some cool ideas about how to incorporate that drama during the course of the show.”
3:55 p.m. Kinane says that the “Idol” auditions mostly work, but they have cut down on the number of bad people put in front of the judges. They've added the option to be accompanied by the “Idol” pianist. “It's what happens in real auditions,” Kinane says. They brought in Scott Borchetta to bring authenticity to the experience.
3:57 p.m. Our first question directly addressed at Borchetta. Why has he succeeded? “I think that we identified a real opportunity in the business at the time,” he says, looking back to 2005. “I had some like-minded pirates who wanted to try this opportunity with me.” He says that they identified the things that they didn't want to do, which was as important as deciding what they wanted to do. Obviously they were fortunate they had Taylor Swift early.
3:59 p.m. How will Scott Borchetta mentor contestants? How would he have mentored young versions of the judges? Borchetta remembers Keith's first experiences as part of The Ranch. Keith pulls out money and passes it along to Scott. He remembers being disappointed by the lack of guitar on Keith's first album. He praises Keith for making it through that first iteration. Artists are always “in development.” “When you are in this, you're in this for life,” he says. Artists don't stop working and don't stop getting better. “Our best artists are most successful when they excite themselves,” Scott says. He doesn't know Harry as well, but he's interesting that Harry didn't run towards pop. “With Jennifer? Just get out of the way,” he says.
4:03 p.m. Borchetta mentions Adam Lambert as a recent “Idol” non-winner whose post-“Idol” career has been notable. His job is to make sure that after the person wins this year, that they've been given the opportunity
4:05 p.m. A question about reactions to “Empire.” “I've seen it. I like it,” Ryan says. J-Lo hasn't had any time to watch. Harry says that he's Terrence Howard's double. “I think we'd love to do something with 'Empire,'” Kinane says.
4:06 p.m. Kinane likes the way the show teased the Top 24 in the premiere. She says that there's been lots of speculation online, some has been right and some has been wrong. It's become another game.
4:06 p.m. Why were ratings down last year? “I think that the show is successful because of the sum of all parts,” Ryan Seacrest says. He says that this year they've made effort to find contestants who connect with the audience.
4:06 p.m. Harry enjoyed performing together on the finale last year. He hopes to get to do that again.
4:08 p.m. Does hiring Scott mean country singers will be favored? Kinane doesn't think so because Scott didn't come in until after the auditions. She says that there will be new steps in the process to give contestants a chance to be different. “We wanted to look for the different types of artists,” she says. Post-Hollywood Week, the judges met with the contestants and got to know them, almost like job interviews. They also added an audience performance component. There was a showcase performance at House of Blues, which Harry calls “an amazing experience.” “It was almost like a little mini festival in there,” he says. Borchetta got to watch the tapes of the conversations with the judges, which has helped him know where the singers are in their development. “I want to see the hunger in these artists,” Keith says.
That's all, folks…