x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Can the camaraderie of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr boost American Idol?

With the exit of catty divas and the arrival of genuine camaraderie on the judging panel, American Idol’s new season promises its best shot in years to regain lost glory.

From left, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr are the judges for the 13th season of American Idol. Courtesy Fox
From left, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr are the judges for the 13th season of American Idol. Courtesy Fox

Like a record producer madly twiddling the studio dials on the Auto-Tune to bend a voice into something that won’t grate on the ears, the producers at Fox are doing their best for 2014 to tart up American Idol – but at the end of the day they’ve got an oldie on their hands and the wrinkles are showing.

Yet, as the 13th season of the granddaddy of the modern-era, star-search reality show dawns over a two-night premiere on Thursday and Friday, there’s a fresh optimism that the irritable and eccentric bits of this tuneful old-timer have been snipped away and the reinvigorated judging panel can – finally, thankfully and mercifully, for the viewers’ sake – get down to business with a dynamism not seen in years.

All it took was coughing up US$17.5 million (Dh64.2m) to lure the global singing star Jennifer Lopez, 44, back to the judging bench – a juicy bump from the $12m she received for her first outing in 2011 and the $15m for 2012. She “walked” last year, when her desired remuneration wasn’t forthcoming.

But despite JLo’s tendency to hijack the show as she sees fit to promote her personal projects – she’ll premiere her new music video, Same Girl, on Idol – her charisma and her down-to-earth Jenny-from-the-block judging style is sure to win back fans.

It’s no mystery why she’s the only lady of the judiciary – book-ended this season by the returning country-star Keith Urban and the jazzy Harry Connick Jr – as last season’s catfights between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj nastily distracted from the job at hand, kneecapped ratings and stole the limelight from contestants.

As well as harmony on all fronts, the perennial host Ryan Seacrest promises a return to the show’s roots – having lots of silly fun and not taking itself too seriously.

“The chemistry is fantastic, I will tell you that,” says Seacrest. “But it’s different for us to look over and not see one of the original [judges], but it’s as if [the new team has] been doing it together forever. Obviously, two of them have been here before and Harry has been here since season one. He’s been a part of the show [as a mentor] since the beginning and has watched every episode. So it all fits perfectly.”

Money can’t buy the magic that producers pray will restore Idol to its glossy 2006 heyday when it averaged 29.5 million viewers per episode, compared to 13 million last season, which is still a respectable number but anaemic by Idol standards.

Even the former Idol snarky-pants Simon Cowell – who reportedly paid himself $95m for his latest season of the sinking, dismally received American version of The X Factor, with fewer than 5 million viewers – can no longer brag about how he’s going to bag American Idol.

The real magic nowadays is happening with The Voice, where Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton have achieved the interpersonal Zen and required ken to pull in 13.8 million viewers weekly. That’s the competition.

As Idol kicks off its new season with auditions in Austin, Texas, and Boston, what will count this season is the pitch of the judging panel – which should reap even more synergy with the warm-fuzzy presence, once again, of the “dawg” himself, Randy Jackson, who returns as a mentor for the talent.

Urban couldn’t be more delighted with his camaraderie with Connick – already popular and well-established as an honest, concise Idol mentor who put in long, creative hours with the contestants, unlike some celebs who just breeze in for the photo-ops.

“[Connick] has such a wonderfully twisted view of things,” says Urban, whose newest album, Fuse, topped the Billboard 200 chart. “I’m right in sync with that for some weird reason as well. We’re having a blast. He feels like my long-lost brother. He really does.”

• The two-part season opener of American Idol will be broadcast at 9pm on January 16 and 17 on OSN First HD


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