Who is Harry Connick Jr.? Well, he’s a Grammy award-winning jazz pianist who became famous for providing the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally. He’s also an accomplished actor with projects as varied as Independence Day and Will & Grace on his resume. Plus, he does a killer Jeff Goldblum impression on request. Oh yeah, he also might be the coolest judge that American Idol has ever had.
Simon Cowell became a cultural icon for his abrasive belittling of contestants; Randy Jackson made “dawg” a part of the national lexicon. AI would never have become the phenomenon that it did without them. Still, calling them cool is a bit of a stretch.
Connick, with his loose-limbed charm, doesn’t have to work at being cool. What the singer has provided for AI is the same thing that Blake Shelton and Adam Levine give to The Voice: a level of genuine self-confidence that isn’t threatened by the cameras, the audience, or the contestants. Connick doesn’t have to worry about his image or his credibility. He gives the impression that if his fame faded away and he had to spend the rest of his life playing clubs in his native New Orleans, he’d be perfectly content with that. When a series of young auditioning singers had no idea who he was, Connick turned it into a series of self-deprecating jokes… including introducing himself to one contestant as Chris Isaak.
While some contestants took to calling him “Harsh Harry,” in reality, his criticisms come across as being honest assessments. He might be the funniest judge the show has ever had, but he has no problem telling contestants what he really thinks of their performances. During Hollywood week he told the assembled group that he hates it when singers complain about not feeling well and warning them not to expect any sympathy from him if they try it. Hearing a performer acknowledge that a paying crowd really doesn’t care if a performer is sick — that they paid to see a show and they expect to see one — was both refreshing and a healthy dose of practical advice for the would-be stars. As sincere as he is, Connick is not afraid to get goofy. Case in point: when he started dancing during contestant C.J. Jones audition (that is, if you can call doing the robot dancing).
Off the show, Connick has also been a boon for the Fox marketing department as he continuously entertains reporters and talk show hosts alike. He’s equally adept at breaking into song or offering up fake answers to banal queries, such as telling Entertainment Weekly that Keith Urban is really from Brooklyn and “mistakenly” referring to Jennifer Lopez as Jennifer Lawrence.
So, who is Harry Connick Jr.? In the end, he’s the guy that’s making American Idol relevant again.