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'American Idol' judges Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. talk audition rounds -- VIDEO

American Idol‘s new season is in full swing on Fox and though the season kicked off with a ratings low note for the series, if you ask EW recapper Annie Barrett, the new judges panel was a rousing success, praising Harry Connick Jr. for his honest judging approach.

When EW caught up with him and fellow judge Keith Urban during the Television Critics Association press tour this week, he opened up about his approach to critiques, citing his willingness to be blunt as a necessary skill. “Sometimes it’s best to cut to the chase and say, ‘I didn’t like that. Here’s why,'” he said. “…I think honesty has to be the source of every single comment.”

Watch more from our chat with the duo below. READ FULL STORY

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

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:

That's one: Keith Urban confirmed for 'American Idol' return


Keith Urban survived the cut.

Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly confirmed that the country artist will return to American Idol next year.

That fills one slot on the long-running reality series, which fell to series-low ratings last season. Former judges Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson and Nicki Minaj are not returning. At least two other judges will be added to the panel in the coming weeks, possibly and/or Jennifer Lopez (again). Jennifer Hudson has also been widely rumored, but isn’t considered a very likely addition.

Reilly said he’s seeking “comfortable judges that make it comfortable to view” the show. He also said, in what seems to be an annual statement about Idol, that next season will focus more on the contestants and less on the judges.

The executive made the statement at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour in Beverly Hills on Thursday.

Reilly was also asked about X Factor, which is radically rebooting its pane for the third year in a row. This year, Paulina Rubio and Kelly Rowland join Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato. “I don’t know that [the panel has] been a problem per se,” he said. “You’re trying to find four judges trying to find the right chemistry, I think the panel for the most part last year worked… Simon is a perfectionist. Demi was a great piece of the puzzle … this year we’ve really got right.”

'American Idol' finals: Backstage scoop from Keith Urban, Kree Harrison, and Candice Glover

American Idol finalists Kree Harrison and Candice Glover wowed the audience at the Nokia Theater at L.A. Live Wednesday evening with three show-stopping ballads each. After the performances, Glover, Harrison and judge Keith Urban came backstage to talk about their night, that coin flip, and singing those soulful songs.

“As different as they are, they have a lot of similarities. They have a lot of vulnerability and strength that are both apparent when they perform. They both come from very roots-y, earthy, real families and I think that’s what’s apparent in what they do. There’s no pageantry in either of them,” said first-time judge Urban. “They sing because they need to sing. Not because they want to be famous.”

But as to what he thought of their performances, Urban said: “I was really taken with the original songs, particularly Kree’s. Kree’s to me was the one that just hit me.” Harrison and Glover may not have Urban’s luxury of distance, but both offered up insights into their performances as well.


InsideTV Podcast: Is Mariah Carey the most boring 'American Idol' judge...ever?

Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

Other than a possibly manufactured feud with Nicki Minaj that she appears to want no part of, has Mariah Carey added anything to the American Idol judging panel? Considering all the vocal expertise at her disposal, we hoped she’d have some legitimate constructive criticism to share with this year’s auditioning contestants. Instead, she merely smiles, says yes or no in as boring a manner as possible, and then goes back to praying that her fellow female judge does not light into her again. Mariah’s yawn-worthy entrance onto the American Idol stage is just one of the first impressions Jessica Shaw and I will be breaking down on this week’s edition of the InsideTV Podcast.

Also up for discussion on the new season of Idol: Is Randy the only judge actually willing to criticize? How are we feeling about the steady stream of inspirational sob stories being shoved down our throats? And does Keith Urban deserve better than being forced to play peacemaker between the two feuding divas? Also, who are our early favorites among the contestants? Click on the audio player icon to hear our thoughts and see if you agree. (The American Idol discussion beings at 24:00.)

But first, it’s time to get busy with one of our TV favorites — Busy Philipps! That’s right, the Cougar Town star calls in to talk about the comedy’s big move to TBS, her boobs getting a lot bigger (due to her pregnancy, natch), and what’s in store for her character coming up. She also shares some memories from her Freaks and Geeks days and plays a few kick-ass rounds of Jessica’s new game — 7 Degrees of Busy Philipps. READ FULL STORY

'American Idol' judges: First glamour shot! -- EXCLUSIVE

Now that we know Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj are not (yet) engaged in an epic feud one day after American Idol‘s season 12 judging announcement, feast your eyes on the first official judges portrait — a sea of understated navy topped with a dollop of rainbow sherbet. It is my esteemed privilege to be the first one to ask, What’s your damage, Nicki Minaj’s pants?” Will the living, breathing, rapping cotton candy dispenser insist on corrupting every serene group shot with a “Can you see my no-no?” expression of faux surprise? Stay tuned.



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