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Keith Urban on 'American Idol' Season 12: 'It's a Girl's Year'

The judge shared details about Wednesday's "sudden death" rounds in Las Vegas and praised some of the female contestants -- particularly Angela Miller, Kree Harrison and, yes, Zoanette Johnson.

Keith Urban American Idol Headshot - P 2013
Keith Urban

American Idol's "sudden death” rounds in Las Vegas will air Wednesday night, and nobody is looking forward to it more than judge Keith Urban.

“Performing is meant to be in front of people,” he told reporters on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “For me, last night, 1,700 people in that theater and a live band -- here we go! Now we're doing this! This is what it’s supposed to be like. I love the live part of it. Randy Jackson shares that enthusiasm with me. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to since we started.”

On Tuesday night, a live audience was invited for the first time ever to view the sudden death rounds at the Love Theater in Las Vegas. For the first round, 10 girls will perform in front of the panel, with Interscope label head Jimmy Iovine acting as the tiebreaker. Those results will be aired 8 p.m. Wednesday.

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“I think at least from what we saw last night, it’s absolutely a girl’s year to win, in my opinion,” said Urban. “That’s not to say the guys aren’t strong, they really are, it’s really more a testament to how strong the girls are this year.”

The country superstar said that although it is too soon to pick a frontrunner in the competition, he did say Angela Miller and Kree Harrison are strong contenders.

“I will say the audience reaction last night to Angela Miller and a couple of other girls was pretty obvious,” said the 45-year-old singer. “I think the original song of Angela’s that has been floating around the internet that you can find has really resonated with a lot of people, so that’s really cool to see.”

When asked if Miller’s preference to perform originals gave her an advantage over her competition, Urban told The Hollywood Reporter that it didn’t hurt.

“Original songs are allowed, if you’ve got something that you feel confident with. Certainly in Angela’s case, she rightly had confidence in a song like that. I thought it was superb,” he said. “Her performance was superb. I think it really helped her -- not just because it showed that she could write, and that’s not a prerequisite in my opinion -- there are certainly any amount of great artists from Frank Sinatra on down who never write songs, but I think to see her confidence singing a song that she wrote was very helpful for her. For me, I like to see another side of who they are, and obviously if they write a song, it speaks a lot about who they are as a person as well as an artist.”

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As for Harrison, who Urban enthusiastically said he “fought for” during the Hollywood rounds, Urban is most impressed with her authenticity as a performer.

“Kree is an extraordinarily gifted singer in an unusual way because she is so effortless in the way she sings,” he said. “There is nothing over the top … nothing theatrical and large about her as a performer. It’s just an incredibly authentic voice in the way that Adele has that incredibly authentic voice. She is definitely a contender.”

As for Zoanette Johnson, the national anthem-belting, drum-playing firecracker in the competition, Urban has high hopes as well.

He said the judges have done a pretty good job “letting America see her extraordinarily unique gifts in full flight. You never know. She’s like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you’re going to get."

On Janelle Arthur, who auditioned with his song, "The Ranch," in North Carolina, Urban called the move "extraordinarily bold" and hinted that some more of his songs are on the docket in upcoming shows.

Urban, who had previously judged on the Australian panel of The Voice, said that when looking for a star, other factors come into play besides vocals. He quoted Iovine’s philosophy that an artist must also make one feel something when they sing.

“The reality is if it was only about the voice the chairs would never spin around. There is a certain point where the rest of it comes into play. It just does. The voice is very important, obviously, because that’s the vehicle that is being used to carry the art and the expression and the creativity, but in this day and age there is more to it than that,” he said. “Having said that, Adele famously said, “I make music for the ears not the eyes.” There is a lot to be said for an extraordinary voice. It can make up for all the rest, if it’s not there as far as the entertainment aspect and all the dancing.”

Urban also had kind words for his fellow judges, particularly Nicki Minaj, whom he said he had never met before Idol.

“What I really liked about Nicki was just her straight shooting directive, and me growing up in Australia, I just really like being around people that just are absolutely raw and straight and tell it like it is,” he said. “I clicked with Nicki right from the get-go.”

As for Mariah Carey, Urban praised her vocals as “one of the world’s greatest vocalists, period."

“Any girl that would love the opportunity to sing for Mariah and get feedback from her [is] a real plus,” he said.

The one thing he would love to do most, however, is jam with the panel. Urban said he feels like he “joined a band” with himself on guitar, Jackson on bass, and “two chick singers."

“This is our band,” he said. “That’s what it feels like."

Twitter: Michele Amabile