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If American Idol wanted to pull a 180 from last year’s uncomfortable bickering between judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, it may have succeeded. Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. made one of their first public appearances as a trio on Monday, exuding about as much tension as a group of touring Up With People players.
“They’re fun; they get along; it’s going to be great,” said Ryan Seacrest, greeting reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
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Questions about the new judges’ dynamic, however, were largely skirted. There was no mention of Carey or Minaj made by anyone onstage — including Urban, who shared to the stage with the women in 2013.
“They are different seasons,” he said, in a clear attempt at diplomacy. “We have such a mutual appreciation for music.”
The only defensive moment of the panel came when executive producer Trish Kinane was asked about her thoughts on The Voice replacing American Idol as TV’s musical darling.
“I don’t think The Voice is more popular than American Idol,” she said. “If you look at the ratings, Idol still beat it. American Idol is the gold standard. The Voice is the good show. There’s room for two shows in the market.” (The last time American Idol and The Voice were airing at the same time, American Idol did retain its dominance among total viewers. The Voice has inched past it among adults 18-49.)
Kinane also spoke about the changes to the series, which enters its 13th season on Jan. 15.
“We made a lot of small changes,” she said. “We didn’t want to do anything radical. We went back and examined every single element of the show, from the talent search to the finale. … It’s still American Idol. It’s a million tiny decisions that I think has made for a fresher whole.”
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One of the biggest changes is likely the role for Randy Jackson, the longtime judge who finally stepped down at the end of last season.
“There’s a new role for Randy this year, it’s a sort of Randy Jackson workshop,” added Kinane. “Randy is going to be hosting a two-day workshop where the kids who got through to the live show have an education, if you like, in song choices, personal style and other things.”
Lopez, who previously served as a judge in seasons 10 and 11, added that she’s still happy she took last year off — and returning was not an easy choice.
“It was one of those tough decisions that I had to make,” she said. “Somehow we were able to work it out. We all love music. We love this journey, and we’re all fans of American Idol. I think that’s what’s going to make it sparkly and fresh and new again.”
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