Harry Connick, Jr. Is the Greatest Thing That's Ever Happened to American Idol

Categories: Appreciations

Just as the youngsters -- with all the twerking and the swag and the Instagram filters -- are apparently deserting Facebook in droves, American Idol no longer holds the appeal that it did five years ago. In fact, Wednesday's premiere episode for Season 13 arrived with the lowest viewing figures for an Idol premiere ever. (Still, with 15 million turning in, we doubt Fox is all that worried.) It's fair to say that part of the problem with this season is that, despite the return of J-Lo on the judges' panel, there aren't that many teenagers who really give a flip about the other two judges, Keith Urban, and now, Harry Connick Jr.

So this is your time, thirtysomething Facebook users! This Idol's for you! To be perfectly honest, we haven't had so much as a passing interest in American Idol for years, thanks to a run of three consecutive non-winners -- David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze. However, we tuned in this week to see how the handsome Mr. Connick would fare. And in case you missed the two-night premiere, here's why the dude is pretty much our favorite judge in American Idol history.

HCJ's first selling point is watching baffled kids trying to figure out who the hell he is. In the course of Wednesday's show, Harry was referred to as both "Tony" and "Henry" by contestants, while others sat in the waiting room trying to do their homework via the medium of Google ("What a good looking guy!" howls one woman, who's clearly never laid eyes on him before this image search), moms (who tell the kids "He's white, but he sounds black"), and sheer guesswork ("It rhymes with Robert Downey Jr. ... Something like that.")

The second great thing is that Connick Jr. knows that few people auditioning give a hoot about him. And, sometimes, even when they do, the compliments are backhanded. When one girl asks for a hug, Connick says "Absolutely" and obliges, only to have the girl say "Only because Will & Grace is one of my favorite shows in the entire world."

When another girl launches into a speech to J-Lo that includes the line "You make me want to be someone in this world," Keith Urban quips "Not so much you, Harry" only to have the girl chime in with: "My mother loves you," gesturing to HCJ. "That's nice," Harry mutters, before sarcastically yelling "Tell your mom thanks!" as the girl is exiting.

By the end of auditions in the first few cities, Connick has fully embraced his role on the show, telling Urban -- as Jennifer sits between them -- "It's like we're bookends ... Nobody ever looks at us."

And then there's the following exchange when a new singer walks in the room:

HCJ: "You do know who I am, right?"
Contestant 99333: "You're Harry Connick Jr.!"
HCJ: "Nope. Chris Isaak. "Wicked Game"? No?"

Possibly the most refreshing thing about Connick's arrival to American Idol is his bluntness. He doesn't have the smug air of, say, Simon Cowell, so when he says terrible things like "You're growing up in a time where they have pitch-directing software, and you could really use it," and "There is a quality [to you] that is a grating quality," it doesn't even seem particularly unpleasant. Possibly, telling someone after they've already been sent to the Hollywood semi-finals that "Honestly, I just don't think you're a good enough singer" is a little unnecessary, but still.

In addition, HCJ has the guts to tell a 15-year-old girl that perhaps singing the line "If I was a blade, I'd shave you smooth," is not entirely age-appropriate ("It really was creeping me out!"). Best of all, Connick Jr tells J-Lo and Urban repeatedly not to focus so much on "the smoke and mirrors of pentatonics" -- in other words, that annoying, yodelly, run shit that Maria Carey and Christina Aguilera are so famous for. "You know too much," says J-Lo, after having the term explained to her.


So old, unknown-to-the-kids Harry Connick Jr.'s magical combination of self-deprecation and blunt critique makes him a truly watchable commodity. But he's also a loose cannon -- as was evidenced at the end of Wednesday's episode when, overcome with joy that a contestant reads Harry's "Wikipedia page every day before I go to sleep," HCJ leapt out of his chair, lifted the bespectacled teen off his feet and long-hugged him. When Connick eventually returns to his seat, it's with the promise: "If you blow us away on the first song, I'd like to pick you up and hold you like a baby on the second." 

When Connick stays good on his promise and carries the kid all of the way out of the room, confused host Ryan Seacrest asks the young man: "Why was he cradling you?" 

"Because I love him," says the kid. So do we, Contestant 15339. So do we.

-- @Raemondjjjj

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