The new "American Idol" judges will make their first joint public appearance Tuesday, at the Season 13 audition tapings held at Boston's Copley Square Hotel. America, it's time to meet your "new" judging panel: Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and last-minute recruit Harry Connick Jr.
"'American Idol' has always been about discovering the next singing superstar, and next season our judging panel will deliver a most impressive combination of talent, wisdom, and personality to do just that," said Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly in a statement. "Jennifer Lopez, the triple-threat global superstar who loves 'Idol' and whom 'Idol' fans love; Harry Connick Jr., a bona fide musical genius and fantastic 'Idol' mentor whose honesty and expertise can help turn these hopefuls into stars; Keith Urban, a multi-Grammy-winning artist who was such a positive force on the show last season. We are also very excited to have our friend Randy Jackson now in a new role as mentor, and the captain of our team — the heart and soul of 'Idol' — Ryan Seacrest returning as host."
The use of quotation marks around the word "new" in this article's opening paragraph isn't a grammatical slip-up. All of these celebrities are familiar "Idol" faces. Obviously, J.Lo was a judge on Seasons 10 and 11, and she also performed on the Season 12 finale; Keith is the one surviving judge from last season's troubled panel; and Harry is a two-time mentor. And of course, we all know Randy. So this hardly seems like the drastic show makeover that "Idol" fans were promised after longtime producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe were ousted and replaced by "Swedish Idol's" supposedly edgier Per Blankens and MTV's Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prage. (Ironically, this was actually Nigel Lythgoe's judging dream team, before he was fired from the show; last month, he actually told "Access Hollywood" that if he'd had his way in Season 12, he would have picked J.Lo, Harry, and Keith for the panel.)
This news comes after months of speculation and reported difficulties in assembling a new "Idol" cast. Various names in the mix included Katy Perry/Ke$ha super-producer Dr. Luke, who had to bow out due to a conflict of interest between "Idol's" Universal Records and his own label affiliate, Sony; Justin Bieber/Carly Rae Jepsen manager Scooter Braun, who decided not to pursue the opportunity; "The Voice U.K." judge and frequent "Idol" guest will.i.am, whose negotiations stalled over money; Diddy, who reportedly didn't want to work with his ex-girlfriend J.Lo; and Kanye West, who turned "Idol" down out of fear that the job would hurt his street cred. There was also some especially interesting industry chatter about an all-"Idol"-alumni panel that might have included Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, or Clay Aiken, but that too didn't pan out.
Instead, we've ended up with pretty much the same old "American Idol." The show had a real chance to retool its format, but frustratingly, producers played it very safe. Even former judge Randy Jackson, who supposedly left "Idol" this past May after a dozen seasons, will be back on the show after all, taking over Jimmy Iovine's in-house mentor role. It's certainly understandable — after an attempt to give the program an edgy makeover last season with the addition of judge Nicki Minaj backfired so spectacularly — that Fox's powers-that-be would go with less controversial, less risky casting choices this time around. Or, maybe, they just couldn't find anyone else, considering how many other big names reportedly turned the job down. Either way, it's still disappointing.
The one bright spot of hope here is the addition of Harry Connick Jr., one of the best mentors in "Idol" history. While the 45-year-old Southern gentleman and easy-listening jazz man will undoubtedly appeal to "Idol's" core conservative fanbase, he still has a bit of an edge and some very strong opinions, as evidenced by his unpredictable guest mentorship last season. That appearance almost seemed like an audition for the judging job, especially when Harry dared to take a seat behind the desk on the live top four episode and spar with lame-duck judge Randy over what he thought was a ridiculous critique of a Kree Harrison performance. He completely put Randy in his place (while making tough diva Nicki laugh) and even had Ryan Seacrest exclaiming, "You're making Nicki and Mariah [Carey] look very benign!" So Harry does have the potential to mix things up next season in a way that, let's face it, J.Lo, Keith, and Randy just won't.
What do you think of the Season 13 panel? Do you think Season 13 will seem more like a series of "American Idol Rewind" reruns, or do you actually think these old "Idol" veterans can breathe new life into the show? Let me know in the comments section below.