Judges and Ryan Seacrest on What They'll Miss Most About 'American Idol'

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Judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, guest judge and Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson and judge Harry Connick Jr. onstage at Fox's American Idol Season 15 on Feb. 25, 2016 in Hollywood, California.

Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. talk about the top 10 they created, as well as Kelly Clarkson’s judging -- and her stunning performance.

The mood backstage at American Idol is usually light despite the natural stress of production. So it was a rare few minutes when the judges and Ryan Seacrest sat down with Billboard on a couple of white couches to discuss a serious topic: what they are all going to miss the most about the long-running series. As they spoke and listened to each other, the mood turned emotional.

“It was such a special thing from the moment I stepped on the set,” Jennifer Lopez recalled. “There was something magical about it. It’s the people behind the scenes and the people we met and watched blossom into all they can be. It’s about dreams and people supporting each other. It’s about all the good things about people. And that’s what I’ll miss the most – being a part of that.”

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Keith Urban spoke next. “For me, the thing that has always set Idol apart is its particular spirit and heart. When it’s been at its best, as I’ve watched over the years, that’s the thing that has permeated it. It’s really an intangible quality. The bittersweet part of this season is the heart and spirit is the strongest it’s ever been. It feels like it’s right back front and center, and it’s because of these guys, everybody behind the scenes and the intent and spirit of the show. That’s what I’m going to miss.”

Harry Connick, Jr. had similar sentiments as he looked around at Jennifer, Harry and Ryan. “Aside from the talent we get to see, which is a really fun gig to have, I truly am going to miss showing up every week and seeing these folks. We’re invested in the young performers. We all deeply love American Idol. And I’m going to miss showing up every week and experiencing that.”

As the host of Idol for all 15 years, Seacrest had a slightly different point of view. “For everyone watching, it’s a television show. For me, it’s part of my life. There are so many faces behind the scenes and on camera that we get to see on a regular basis that are like family now. I don’t really remember life without coming to work here. Saying goodbye is going to be difficult.”

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After Thursday night’s live broadcast, Billboard caught up with the judges again to talk about the top 10 they put together (with some help from America). “They’re phenomenal,” said Lopez. “I tweeted, which I’ve never done in the middle of the show. I usually wait until after. But in the middle of the show I wrote, ‘Is it me or is this the best Idol competition in history?’ As I looked over at the contestants, I thought every one of them sang their butts off. Some of them are real artists and some play their guitars and some of them just wail. There’s a whole gamut, but they’re all super-talented.” And how does she feel about two people going home next week? “It’s going to be bad,” she predicted.

“I thought tonight was extraordinary,” Urban told Billboard. “We’ve got a competition. We’ve got some serious performers. There’s Dalton [Rapattoni] – you never know what he’s going to do with a song. And La’Porsha [Renae], who sets the bar extremely high. And you’ve got Sonika [Vaid], who can follow La’Porsha and hold her own. I think La’Porsha can make all the others rise. You either step up or you go home.”

Harry Connick, Jr. had something to say about the four eliminated contestants. “They were incredible. Jeneve [Rose Mitchell] was very polarizing. People came to me and said, 'What the hell were you thinking?' and other people said, 'There’s something special going on with this one.' And I really think there is something special, but it’s not for me to vote anymore. I don’t know how you decide.” And does Connick think there is a clear winner yet? “Not to me. I’ve seen this too many times. When you think this person might win, you never know. They could all win. There are some performers up there who are more comfortable than the others, but they all have something to offer.”

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The judges also had something to say about the evening’s guest judge and performer, Kelly Clarkson. “It was fun with Kelly,” Lopez said. “We deferred to her expertise and the fact that she was the only one of all the judges who have ever existed who knows what it’s like to go through every single moment of that competition except what it’s like to be sent home. She knows it so well, it’s so nice to hear her perspective on things.” At that point, Billboard pointed out that Clarkson was “eliminated” once – on World Idol on Jan. 1, 2004, when she placed second to an Idol from Norway. Lopez retorted with a laugh, “So she does know everything!”

Urban was also effusive in his praise. “I would have loved to have had her on every season. She’s so easy and so real. I think she’s the perfect blend of what a lot of people at home are thinking and feeling and she knows how to say it, but she’s also been on that stage. She knows exactly what those guys and girls are going through.” Tears were rolling down Urban’s face during Clarkson’s emotional performance of “Piece by Piece.” “It tore me up as a song. When you write songs, that’s the bar you strive for, something that has that much truth, poetry and emotional power. It’s an absolutely extraordinary song.”