Connick calls the top 24 "very strong" and "the most remarkably talented group of kids I've ever heard," telling Billboard, "I think the greatest thing about this group of 24 is that they are more ready for this Idol experience I think than some of the top 24s in the past."
He adds: "For example, there were some kids that we hoped would do well, and they petered out over the competition in previous years. And we would put people through based on how well we thought they would do, which is a lot of pressure to put on somebody. So this year we decided: Look, let's put in people that we think are more suited to the competition as opposed to super raw talent that's not quite ready for this."
The Idol judge also shared that during the auditions, the female contestants were leaps and bounds better than the men, saying the judges were worried they would have a top 24 of just girls, but the guys stepped up at the last minute. Connick added that the field is now "going to be pretty balanced."
As far as how the show will be different in its final year, Connick deadpanned, "I am literally the last person to know anything. Somebody just said to me that the original judges are coming back, and that's the first I've heard that. That'd be great. They don't tell us anything."
'American Idol' Final Season to Be Four Weeks Shorter Than Last
He adds: "We're doing everything we can to make it a great year, but we did that last year, and it's really up to the producers of the show to come up with things to make it unique, and I think they will."
The final season of the show will be bittersweet for all involved, as the intensity and excitement is steadily ramping up. "It's creeping up more and more," the 48-year-old says. "People are asking, 'What's it feel like?' And you start thinking, 'Man it's the end of an era,' so we're savoring the moments as best as we can."
Connick also stated that he hopes his Idol legacy is one of "sincerity and honesty": "The only thing I care about is that I can be truthful and spontaneous with these kids."
American Idol will kick off its 15th and final season on Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. on Fox. Fans will have to wait until early February to see which singers made the top 24.