Harry Connick Jr. on Being an 'Idol' Judge: 'I'm Sure Some People Think I'm a Jerk'

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Michael Becker / FOX
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. filming American Idol in Little Rock in 2015.

During Simon Cowell’s nine years on the show, the Brit made cutting down a contestant in the harshest manner imaginable into appointment TV. The judges who came after, however, took a more congenial, but still critical, approach. “Simon is not a trained musician, so his is a very different skill set,” says Harry Connick Jr., 48, who is on his third season on the panel. “The [music] teachers I had growing up were extremely tough. It was not warm and fuzzy. So this is very easy. But I still have to tell [the contestants] what I think. And hopefully they’ll take it to heart. They know I’m not screwing with them.”

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Be Prepared
“Honesty, preparation and spontaneity are the keys” to being an effective judge, says Connick. “For preparation, I find out what songs they’re singing four or five days before. I study who wrote them; I learn the lyrics; I look at the melodies; I listen to other people’s versions. You need to have as much information as you can to make a critique potentially mean something. I’m not going to say anything that I don’t think is true. I have to be honest, and I think it’s important to be spontaneous.”

Be Specific
“If you tell someone ‘I don’t like your shirt’ and you don’t explain why, they will walk away saying, ‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’ ”

Encourage A Reaction
“I’m sure some people think I’m a jerk and some don’t. It doesn’t really matter. What I care about is how I can give [the contestants] information they can use in a very short amount of time.”

-- Reporting by Fred Bronson

This story originally appeared in the March 25 issue of Billboard.