TV Review: Harry Connick Jr. Brings Fun Back to ‘American Idol’

Has 'American Idol' Officially Entered the

Cosmetic changes and a new judge lineup result in a brighter, breezier show

Without declaring victory after just one night, Harry Connick Jr. has almost single-handedly brought a sense of fun back to “American Idol.” Whether spoofing his lack of celebrity relative to Jennifer Lopez or clowning with Keith Urban, there’s an easy camaraderie among the judges that should make the show better company until the winnowed-down contestants can take over, and an emphasis on the feel-good — with slightly less schmaltz — under the new production team. While there’s probably no undoing the damage inflicted by having the too-similar “X Factor” mucking things up, at least Fox’s flagship competition program has gotten the mix right.

The two-hour premiere features several new elements, some appearing to bear the touches of Fox’s David Hill, who has assumed oversight of the shows and headed the entertainment division before assuming the helm at Fox Sports, where he flooded the screen with graphics and introduced a rollicking frat-house-style kickoff show. (Full disclosure: I briefly contributed to while Hill was running the place.)

Among the tweaks are placing cameras in a room known as “The Chamber,” a kind of holding pen for performers right before they come out to sing. If it has a slightly “Big Brother”-ish quality (considering both the CBS show and Orwell’s original), it’s emblematic of a desire to present viewers  a slightly different look, and a build-up that’s seemingly designed to resemble the Super Bowl pregame show. Small wonder Fox bills the show as “American Idol XIII.”

In something of a departure, there are virtually no freak-show aspirants in the opener. The rejections are also handled with a bit more sensitivity than at times in the past and, mercifully, no one is told they sound “pitchy.”

Foremost, with Connick’s addition and Lopez’s return, the program actually has three grown-up music stars serving as judges, with Connick displaying a charming sense of humor regarding the adulation heaped on Lopez. “We’re like bookends up here,” he complains to Urban, as contestants keep fixating on the diva.

Naturally, “Idol” is still heavy on crying mothers, the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, Ryan Seacrest saying things like “This … is your show,” and an on-air script resembling a heart-disease public-service announcement that reads, “Life Can Change in a Heartbeat.”

All told, though, the show feels brighter and breezier, and initially avoids some of the heavier-handed pomposity “X Factor” exhibits during these rounds.

Of course, the churn of judges hasn’t benefited the show much as the ratings have slid – other than to give the press something to chew over –  but even a weaker “Idol” is hardly chopped liver. Neither is improving a longstanding franchise such as this while on the fly and under the microscope, whether or not that turns out to be the Nielsen version of a golden ticket.

TV Review: Harry Connick Jr. Brings Fun Back to 'American Idol'

(Series; Fox, Wed. Jan. 15, 8 p.m.)


Produced by 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia North America


Executive producers, Simon Fuller, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Trish Kinane, Per Blankens, Jesse Ignjatovic, Evan Prager; co-executive producer, Charles Boyd. 120 MIN.


Host: Ryan Seacrest. Judges: Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban

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  1. Loren says:

    I am so happy that Idol got it right this season!! The show has a lighter fresher feel to it. Harry Connick, Jr is so funny yet he is very sincere and knowledgeable as well. Jennifer Lopez is stunning and lovely. She seems to genuinely care about the contestants. It is also fun to see her different “looks” and her wardrobe! Keith Urban remains to be down to earth and completely honest and straightforward. I think they are an amazingly talented diverse trio and I look forward to a great season of Idol!

  2. lalamav says:

    Ugh. Now I have to watch this lame show because Jennifer Lopez is in it. I like her, but I don’t like reality TV. Thanks, J.Lo.

    Love, a disgruntled viewer.

  3. Eileen says:

    Thank goodness for the 3 Judges this year. This show is great for the Talent, when it is not about the Judges. I think all 3 have class and grace and know when to step aside to showcase the very Talented People that compete and are promoted from this show. Whether the show is high in standings this year or not it is great and it will certainly not be a reflection of the Judges or Talent showcased, but a reflection of the 2 poorly chosen narcissistic Judges from last year…

  4. Patty says:

    Nice never goes out of style – thank you for the up-grade.

  5. coco says:

    Sandra, I disagree about Lopez. I think she was a great judge and these three will make a great team. Thank goodness. Harry will try to get the contestants to focus on singing the melody, rather than the vocal gymnastics, which never shows if they can simply sing. Mariah was a horrible judge, she can sing, but she couldn’t critique worth a darn.

  6. Jacques Strappe says:

    Too late. Idol is no longer relevant.

  7. Sandra says:

    Both Harry and Keith are very talented musicians and will give sound advice to the contestants. Too bad Idol brought back Lopez. Big mistake. The woman can’t sing and is only there to save her sinking career, she will use the show again to promote herself like she did in her previous seasons. They should have tried to keep Mariah instead; now that would have been a super combo of three real talents.

    • Donna Iovino says:

      I agree with you about Keith and Harry definitely, but Mariah is nothing but a big name diva drama queen!!!!! I sort of agree with you about JLO too,though. Will see.

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