“American Idol” is back in town, and New Orleanian Harry Connick Jr. is back with it — arriving at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Wednesday atop a float, Carnival-style.
Beginning his second season as a judge on the Fox television reality-contest show, Connick will again share the judges’ table with Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.
Although this season, the show’s 14th, won’t begin airing until early 2015, all three judges were in town Tuesday and Wednesday to take their first look at contestants who were selected by the show’s producers and executive producers from New Orleans’ June 25 auditions.
During their two-day stay, Connick, Lopez and Urban made the call on which of the approximately 100 hopefuls will receive a coveted “golden ticket” — signaling that they will move on to the next round of competition in Hollywood.
One of the most successful shows in television history, since it came on the scene in 2002 “American Idol” has launched the careers of a long line of chart-topping performers, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. Those three have racked up a total of 10 Grammy Awards, 35 Billboard Music Awards and an Academy Award (for Hudson).
At a news conference Wednesday, Lopez confirmed that on the first day of auditions she saw a few contestants she considers strong contenders for this year’s title.
“It really is a feeling,” she said of her judging style. “If they affect me, then they’ll affect the world.”
And the competition is tougher than ever.
“We’ve really stepped up our game,” Connick said of the three judges. “They (the contestants) really have to bring it on the first day.”
Three of the six audition cities were chosen because they are the hometowns of the judges. In each of those cities, the hometown judge arrives at the auditions in style. In Nashville, for instance, Urban, a country music star, arrived in a giant monster truck.
Connick, the founder of the Carnival krewe Orpheus, arrived at the Convention Center atop the superkrewe’s famed “Smokey Mary” steam locomotive float, complete with a band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
As Urban and Lopez looked on, he threw beads to revelers — all hopeful “American Idol” contestants and their families.
Though it was a short visit dominated by a grueling two full days of auditions, Connick was able to treat Lopez to a bit of local cuisine at Clancy’s restaurant Tuesday night. “We ordered just about everything on the menu,” he said.
Also Tuesday, Urban performed in an intimate 300-person concert at the House of Blues.
The next stop on the “American Idol” auditions schedule is New York City, adopted home of Lopez.
One can only imagine how she’ll choose to make her entrance.