It’s safe to say that the “American Idol” judging panel of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr. was an example of lightning hitting twice in TV chemistry. Most people who still tune in to “Idol” every season probably thought they’d never find a team of judges that would equal the original chemistry of Abdul, Jackson, and Cowell. Even if they did with the previous season’s panel of adding oil and water Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, the tension between Carey and Minaj gave a depressing edge to the judging table that perhaps made it easier for Randy Jackson to finally leave.
Now that Jackson is technically back (and loitering in the studio as if he wants to sit at the judging table), you have to wonder if the chemistry would be even better with Jackson now that Urban, Lopez, and Connick are shown to not be a mere one-season wonder. But what does each one truly bring to the table that makes it work? They all have their own individual approaches to judging, plus specific chemistry that makes all three look better than perhaps the sum of parts.
The show probably needed a more earthy type of judge that likes the raw edge some singers bring on the stage. Urban’s Australian sensibility is more than obvious in being able to better understand the down-to-earth nature of singers, especially in those singing rock and country. He’s also the polar opposite of Harry Connick, Jr. for that needed Yin & Yang between judges. It’s almost symbolic that they’re seated on the left and right because Urban will “get” the rock performance and use more straightforward terms to analyze it. Conversely, Connick brings the more intellectual analysis that sometimes conflicts when Urban defends a performance and Connick doesn’t.
It’s also clear Urban isn’t full of himself as other male and female artists sometimes are there. He’s not out to promote himself at every turn, nor promote Nicole Kidman’s projects. He’s probably the most sensible judge the panel has ever had without once using the word “pitchy.”
It might seem redundant to have any kind of analysis of Jennifer Lopez. While she might seem like the diva judge that Minaj and Carey were thought to be, she really isn’t if you listen to what she says and watch her actions. Her friendly terms with the other judges (especially the interactions with Harry Connick) are obviously genuine and not forced. You can tell they all like one another, which is the secret to a truly successful judging panel.
Appropriately enough, Lopez is in the middle because she seems to be the bridge between musical analysis that’s more basic and more thoughtful. She’s been around in the business long enough to know things about singing, even if it’s still amazing she’s better known for her music career now than her acting career. While we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, she seems more the anti-diva with a warm personality you don’t see often in many 21st century music superstars.
The only thing that probably still brings jaws to the floor is how much they’re paying her. We can only imagine how many more millions the producers are doling out to bring her back. For some, the thought of doing judging once a week for millions of dollars is a bit too much to take. Then again, we have to consider it’s buying the overall rare commodity of TV chemistry.
Harry Connick, Jr.
Anyone who’s seen Connick perform live or seen his interviews knows he has enough colorful personality to probably hold the judging panel on his own. Being aware of his musical training, though, I figured he’d be an immediate fish out of water. During the auditions, he was already getting flak for spouting nerdy musical terms you only learn in music theory class. Clearly, most of the singers didn’t know anything about musical theory and only made them realize that Connick wasn’t their soul mate judge.
In that regard, you have to wonder how things would have gone had he been on “The Voice” where the singer has to choose a judge to work with throughout the season. With Connick’s intellectual and smarter analytical approach, he probably wouldn’t have had many takers.
This shouldn’t knock his more thoughtful approach to music theory and singing approach. The show needed someone who knew how to analyze singing more professionally so the contestants could hone the edges of their cover songs. However, the fact that so many are perplexed by Connick’s college-level analysis shows how many go into singing with pure natural ability and not worrying about analyzing it more carefully.
Now with all that back again, and a more familiar feel of who the judges really are, it’s possible “Idol” has another five years in them after seeming to be at their last breath for the last several years. These judges represent just about every angle of music and take it seriously above worrying about how they look on camera every commercial break.