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Harry Connick Jr. Talks 'American Idol' Return and Season 13's Top 3

"They have completely left me alone," Connick said of producer interference with judging. "I thought there would be more noise."

Harsh' Harry
Michael Becker/FOX

Wednesday night's 500th episode of American Idol has plenty to celebrate: Harry Connick, Jr. has confirmed that he will be back for the show's fourteenth season.

"I have had a blast,” he said of his experience so far. Although he could not speak for fellow judges Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, Connick is hopeful that the trio will remain intact. “I would hope that they are able to come back, too,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey and I look forward to doing it again.”

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The one thing he said he is enjoying the most is the fun and obvious natural chemistry shared with both Urban and Lopez. “It’s really tough to fake that,” he said. “It’s live TV, and we spend a lot of time with each other from the audition stage to backstage to traveling. They are great to be with.”

As for producer involvement in the trio’s decisions, he said he was surprised by how things are “virtually silent ... They have completely left me alone, and you would hope that's how it would be for such a giant show ... I thought there would be more noise."

Connick said he has enjoyed watching the growth of the top 3 singers: Caleb Johnson, Jena Irene, and Alex Preston“When we picked all three of them, we would have hoped that they ended up here, but we also thought that about the top 13 and the top 30,” he said. “You just don’t know who is going to have the goods to continue in this particular structure."

While he didn’t go so far to predict a winner, Connick had no problem pointing out the strengths of each singer competing for the top spot. “They are all so different, which makes for an amazing competition,” he said. “Caleb is a very big, dynamic performer with a big, strong voice. Jena has such variety in her song choices and in her performances from ballads to [PatBenatar. And then you have Alex, who has these little idiosyncrasies and more delicate performances and all this little minutia that goes into his performances. They are all very strong, with very different fan bases. It’s sort of anybody’s race at this point.” His favorite performances by each singer, he said, includes Johnson with “In the Still of the Night,” by Whitesnake, Preston’s “Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson, and Irene’s “Creep” by Radiohead.

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Which contestant evolved the most? Connick said perky 16-year old Malaya Watson made the most dramatic transformation. "She was like a loose cannon, and that's a very positive thing," he said. "She was very emotional, very dynamic and very excited, and I saw her get more in control of who she is as a performer on stage each night."

As for criticisms that he is the toughest judge, Connick takes that in stride. “I don’t pay much mind to it,” he said. “I try to be honest…If that honesty stings, that’s ok. Many times the honesty is all about praise.” And although he acknowledges that his judging style is a tad stoic, he said he really doesn’t fraternize with the contestants, and prefers to keep it all about the performances and “doing the  job I was hired to do.”

As for the question of  how the show’s ratings affected his judging, Connick said it doesn't matter. "I am going to do the same thing I am doing, whether it's 50 million people or five million people," he said.

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile, @Idol_Worship