Last night the 13th season of American Idol began and, unlike last season, there was a lighthearted feel, a comic love throughout the building.
For one, drama diva judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj are gone. Jennifer Lopez has returned after a "transformative" season away with a great rapport with Keith Urban, who is back for his second season. But the biggest, and best, change is the addition of singer and pianist Harry Connick, Jr.
Connick's goofy humor brings an infectious joy to the show, which has been on a downward trajectory for a few seasons now.
Last night 19-year old singer Munfarid Zaidi from Pakistan said to Connick, "I read your Wikipedia page every night before going to sleep."
"If you blow us away with the first song, I'd like to pick you up like a baby and hold you," Connick told the singer, who did just that with his jazzy rendition of Adele's "Crazy For You."
After the song, Zaidi held out his arms and Connick ran to him and cradled him like a newborn baby. "You can put your head on my shoulder," the professional singer said and the two began to sing together.
This is only one example of the fun that the 46-year old brought to the first episode of the new season. But Connick is also about real musicality, family, and honesty.
According to People, Connick questioned the contestants on music theory like the pentatonic scale. "What's wrong with challenging America?" he asked.
The difference between his honesty and former judge Simon Cowell's is that none of Connick's comments are in any way malicious.
"I'm responding to a performance," he said. "And I don't believe you have to couch your critique in some compliment. That's my style...If somebody can't sing, they need to go home."
"You have to be specific with them, you know: 'I didn't like the performance. Here's exactly why,'" he added. "You're not going to see me just basing stuff on subjectivity. It's unfair to them. When I didn't play or sing right when I was coming up, they'd say, 'Stop. Here's what you need to work on.' And then you go work on it."
Connick has been married to his wife, Victoria Secret model Jill Goodacre, since 1994. The two have three daughters together.
"I married the girl of my dreams, and I'm so happy, I don't even see another couple," he said at the Television Critics Association winter TV previews on Monday.
Last night when 17-year old standout, Sam Woolf, sang, Connick was pleased. "My daughters are going to go absolutely crazy for that kid."
Other standouts on the premiere last night included 24-year old Shanon Wilson, guitarist Malcolm Allen, 17-year old Marialle Sellars, and 21-year old guitarist Savion Wright who has ADHD and sang an original song, "Hiding in Fear."
"The other competitors are going to be very intimidated by you," Connick told Wright.
Connick has been playing publicly since age 5 and has sold over 28 million albums worldwide. His 1993 album, "When My Heart Finds Christmas," is one of the best-selling Christmas albums in the United States. He has won three Grammy awards and two Emmy awards and is ranked in the top 60 best-selling male artists in the United States.
Along with his jazz music, Connick has also maintained a television and film career, appearing as Dr. Leo Markus on Will and Grace, and in the films Memphis Belle, Independence Day, Hope Floats, Bug, Dolphin Tale, and as a serial killer in Copycat.
American Idol continues on Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
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