'American Idol' Judge Keith Urban Talks Season 14: 'They've Brought Something Fresh'

Keith Urban performs at the CMA Music Festival
Donn Jones/CMA

Keith Urban performs at LP Field on Saturday, June 7 during the 2014 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville.

Keith Urban often refers to his American Idol co-stars as a family. And in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the country star said that his fellow judges came through for him in his time of need -- the death of his father-in-law, Antony Kidman, dad to Urban's wife, Nicole Kidman.

“The loss of Nic’s dad was huge,” he said. “I can’t even describe what that moment was like for our family. I was very, very close to Nic’s dad.”

Urban was scheduled to shoot Idol’s New York auditions around the time of his passing. That's when producers said: “Don’t you worry. You be with your family… We will figure out a way to cover all of this.”

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Recalled Urban: “Adam Lambert stepped up and filled in for me. It was an amazing thing to see that support. I am very grateful, and I don’t take those things for granted. You would think people would have a heart. When I saw it in action with all of the network at FOX and all of the people involved with Idol, and then of course my fan base, it was an extraordinary thing.”

Indeed, things are sturdy and stable at the judges' table, with Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Jennifer Lopez back in action. But when Idol kicks off season 14 next month, viewers will see a few new twists, and more importantly, a new mentor: Scott Borchetta, president of Big Machine Records and the man who discovered Taylor Swift.

Borchetta's arrival begs the question: Did Idol already find the next Swift? Urban said it is not the show’s intention to “find the next anybody... We want to find individualism and uniqueness -- that's what I am waiting for with Idol. I want to find that person who is just extraordinarily original. Adele was very original, Taylor was very original -- they're artists that really solidified their careers and made significant albums. They’re the ones everybody else tries to copy, so I’m interested in finding originals.”

Having Borchetta in the mix, Urban said, is getting the show closer to discover those kinds of artists. “It’s been great having him there. He brings a certain kind of eye and ear and view, [and] having a sense of the relativity of an artist in today’s marketplace and the audience they are going to find and what kind of a record they are going to make. I just feel like they've brought something very fresh into the family and [has] been very helpful, already weighing in as we start narrowing everybody down.”

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One change this season that had Urban pumped took place this week. The segment, called "The Showcase," put the top 48 in front of a live audience at Los Angeles’ House of Blues. A band was set up, he said, and the remaining contestants each got to perform a song in a club — something the show has never done before.

“For me, it was an important part of the process,” he said. “In years past we see them [contestants] in these audition environments and then they go straight to the TV show. I wanted to see what they were like in a club setting. I loved that we got to see what it was like being at their gig. Albeit for one song, but still very telling. Maybe they sang great, but they just froze onstage. They’re not ready. It was such a great part of this process.”

Also new: the judges are getting to know the personalities of the contestants much better prior to show’s “Green Mile” cuts, where a singer learns if they are advancing to the show. “This season, we brought in a select amount of people to talk to us a little bit."

He also said that San Francisco was a hotbed of talent that delivered in "spades," and there are many “unexpected and magical” moments coming up courtesy of Connick, including a moment where both Urban and Connick perform a song while a contestant dances and sings to Lopez. Said Urban: “There is plenty of that this year."


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