On the scene: A preview glimpse of 'American Idol' at Hollywood Week

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Image Credit: Matthias Vriens-McGrath/Fox

The world will have to wait until American Idol premieres on Jan. 15 to know who got the golden tickets, but for the contestants on Idol‘s upcoming 13th season, this week was Hollywood Week and the competition is just starting to get intense. EW was on the scene for the first day of the second stage of FOX’s singing competition.

Contestants had to perform in front of the judges for the first time since their original auditions in their home towns to get to the next round in Hollywood Week: Groups. With new judge Harry Connick Jr. joining Keith Urban and returning judge Jennifer Lopez on the panel, this season already has a warmer different vibe than the last one — better known as Mariah vs. Nicki. Gone are the dueling divas and the new threesome seem to be getting along very well, joking and laughing together throughout the day.

As for the competition itself, each contestant had to sing a song of their choice a cappella on stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, home of the Academy Awards, in front of the judges, their fellow competitors, and family and friends. Each contestant is allowed to bring two people to cheer them on sitting up in the front mezzanine. When it was the contestant’s turn to sing, their family moved to the edge of the balcony so they could see them. The family and friends are also there to console and take eliminated contestants home right away. And I mean right away — their luggage is waiting (organized alphabetically) in the lobby of the theater.

Before singing, each contestant introduced him or herself by sharing their name, age, and why they believe they are the next American Idol. Some favorite introductions we overheard:

“I’m the next American Idol because, c’mon look at me!”

“I do this a lot better than my regular job.”

“There’s never been an American Idol with dreadlocks.”

“Because hell, I deserve it!”

“My name is Marguerite and I’m an alcoholic.” 

Ok, that last one actually came from Connick Jr., joking around saying the introductions made everyone sound like they were in a dating service. One contestant might have been confused about his initial intentions about being there; after performing, he claimed all he wanted for Christmas was a hug from J. Lo. That wish came true. Whether or not that helped him get into the next round, we aren’t allowed to say. A couple of other contestants tried to butter up the judges before singing. If only I had a nickel for every guy who told Lopez she was beautiful.

Here’s a heads up: If you’re going to perform with a guitar, make sure it is tuned. Of the first four groups of the day, nine contestants accompanied themselves on guitar and one on keyboard. However, one guitar wasn’t sitting well with Urban who claimed the out-of-tune sounds were too distracting for him and made the contestant sing again without it. Luckily, it wasn’t the same contestant who actually sang one of Urban’s songs in this round of the auditions.

Though Connick Jr. is an accomplished singer and composer with three Grammy awards, he is also an Emmy-winning actor and put those acting chops to good use while delivering results. Of course, we can’t reveal any of those specific details yet, but let’s just say that Connick Jr. has a way with words. Lopez was clearly taking on the motherly role on the panel, asking contestants about their families and other specifics she may have remembered about them from their first audition. She also encouraged one contestant to continue to sing after cracking and seemingly giving up.

Some song highlights included a soulful, gospel rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” and an acoustic, folk version of Britney Spears’ “Scream and Shout” as well as one contestant claiming she had been preparing to audition for American Idol since she was 3 years old. This was her first year of eligibility. Somewhere, Kelly Clarkson must be feeling old. Ryan Seacrest made one brief appearance on stage while the judges deliberated to film a quick narrative for the show, after waving and blowing kisses to the family section.

After 12 up-and-down seasons, it looks like American Idol has built a strong foundation for the new season by focusing on its original roots. With judges who know how to judge and some of the most talented contestants ever, this season has the potential to be lucky number 13.

American Idol will premiere with a two-night, four-hour event on Jan. 15 and 16 from 8-10 p.m. ET each night on FOX.

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