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Harry Connick Jr. finds his niche at the ‘Idol’ judges table

American Idol

• 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday

• KDFW/Channel 4

Posted 12:00am on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

Harry Connick Jr. already feels very much at home as the new judge on American Idol.

Why shouldn’t he? To Connick’s way of thinking, the job couldn’t get any easier.

“It’s a very simple concept: They sing, we judge,” says the entertainer, who has sold more than 28 million albums worldwide. “It’s not rocket science.”

Connick, who is seated at the judges table alongside Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez, doesn’t even mind dispensing bad news to aspiring pop stars when necessary.

Mind you, he’s not going to get nasty about it, the way sourpuss Simon Cowell often did, but he does intend to tell it like it is.

“Sometimes it’s the best thing these kids can hear is the truth,” Connick says. “I think you can be diplomatic about it, but you also have to be real.”

The new season of American Idol begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Fox, so we’ll see soon enough what kind of judge Connick is. The premiere episode features auditions from Austin and Boston.

Last season, there was friction among judges. How are the three of you getting along? Who’s the most serious about the job and who clowns around the most?

I really love being up there with them. They’re extremely bright people, highly successful, have very strong work ethics and very strong convictions about what they do and they’re the best in the business at their respective jobs. But we’re completely different. We’re different brains, different personalities, different philosophies.

We all kind of goof around and are silly sometimes. I do it a lot because I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I was kind of the class clown. It’s really hard to label people. They all get silly, serious and sentimental. But I guess if you had to pick the person who’s the goofiest, it would be me.

Is there anything you consider to be off-limits when you critique an artist?

I don’t think you make personal commentary on people about the way they look. It’s got nothing to do with that. It has to do with the performance. Like, there was one act that came out that I thought was horrible. I couldn’t wait for it to end. I though it was terrible and I said it was terrible.

How are you when you’re on the receiving end of criticism?

It depends on the source, really. As a kid, when my teachers would critique me, and it happened every day for years and years and years, you develop a tolerance for it, especially when it’s right and when it’s sincere and when it helps you.

Nowadays, if I do something wrong and somebody I know and love says, “Hey, man, that was a mistake,” I’m at the point in my life where I can admit it almost immediately. But if somebody doesn’t like the way I look or the way I sing or the way I talk, it just doesn’t even register with me.

Last year, when you were an Idol mentor, you stressed the importance of the contestants understanding the meaning of the lyrics. Is that something you’ll be looking for as a judge?

Yes, that’s huge. You need to know what you’re singing about. Interestingly to me, that is not important to a lot of singers. They just sing, but they’re not connected to the lyrics. That’s profound to me.

Any chance that you’ll discover the next Harry Connick Jr. this season?

I don’t know. Hopefully there’s only one me and you’ll never find the next one, but genre really doesn’t matter to me. I haven’t seen anyone in this entire audition process that really does anything remotely similar to what I do. But even Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban don’t do what I do.

We’re looking for work ethic and artistry and being telegenic and creative and just being an artist.

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