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'American Idol' 13: Harry Connick Jr, the reason you should watch this season

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The "American Idol" relaunch, officially known as Season 13, premiered Wednesday evening and if one thing is certain: Everybody knows who Harry Connick Jr. is now. They may not have prior to the show's airing or they may have thought he seemed familiar for some reason, but by the end of the two-hour premiere episode, he was as firmly seated as a judge -- alongside returning judges Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez -- in the minds of "Idol" viewers as he was the auditioners. And although there was a

The Christian Science Monitor reported Jan. 16 that the addition of Harry Connick Jr. just might be the cure to what's been ailing the hit reality singing competition for the past few years. (Okay, okay, somebody has to admit it: Since "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell left the show, the show simply hasn't been as exciting.) The ratings have fallen nearly 30 percent in each of the past two seasons, although the strength of the series is seen in the fact that it still has finished as a top ten series for the year (after winning the top spot for eight straight seasons) in the last two years.

But some, like the Christian Science Monitor and TV Guide think the new judge might stop the audience exodus plaguing the show. Why? Well, for several reasons.

Harry Connick Jr. brings a certain credible professionalism to the Season 13 judges panel missing throughout its run. Although they've had professional songwriters (Kara DioGuardi), megastars (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez), pop superstars (Nicki Minaj, Paula Abdul), a rocker (Steven Tyler), and a country superstar (Keith Urban), the show has never had any real credibility in the professionalism category (with Jimmy Iovine's supporting role possibly coming closest). He can be tough without being sarcastic or acerbic (a la Simon Cowell) and his comments are not meant to be mean or demeaning (also a couple of Cowell's strong points), but instructive and constructive.

He's also serious about music in all its aspects. Connick schooled Jennifer Lopez on what the pentatonic scale was and its usage in modern music. If he doesn't think a singer is talented or has range or needs breathing lessons, he is quick to say just that. And he has a way of focusing everything on the music, the songs, and the artists performing the songs, a point the show had a habit of ignoring over the years with its emphasis on the scandals, controversies, off-stage antics, and judge melodramas.

But one quality that Harry Connick Jr. brings to the "Idol" judges table that has been lacking since Steven Tyler's departure after Season 11 is a good sense of humor. (Remember Season 12, the season without amusement? Let's face it: Between Nicki Minaj's pop-eyed eye-rolling and Mariah Carey's endless airy pronouncements that never ended, the laughs during Season 12 were nearly nonexistent.) Keith Urban seems to have found somebody cool to hang out with and with whom he can let loose his wild side. And Jennifer Lopez? Connick seems to have the ability to make the diva appear modest and approachable, a nice departure from the pedestal she was placed upon with Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson.

While lamenting that he and Urban were just "bookends" to Lopez' star power or, later, mock-complaining that nobody knew who he was (after several auditioners fawned over Urban), Connick captured the attention of everyone watching.

The "American Idol" producers helped, sliding in a little segment with "Who Dat?" playing across the screen. (For those not in the know, "Who Dat?" -- slang for "who's that?" -- a phrase adopted by Connick's home, the city of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League in their run for the Superbowl title in 2010.) All the Urban- and Lopez-worship finally led to the audition of 19-year-old Munfarid Zaidi, who assured Connick that he read his Wikipedia page every night. Amazed at finding a true fan, someone that knew who he was, Connick rushed to the audition stage and gave the teen a big hug.

"If you blow us away on the first song, I'd like to pick you up and hold you like a baby on the second," Connick offered. And after Zaidi did a rather nice rendition of Adele's "Crazy for You," he did just that, much to amusement of his fellow judges.

While holding Zaidi in his arms as promised, he instructed his colleagues to give the young man a gold ticket to Hollywood.

It is quite apparent that the producers have found their star for Season 13...

Fox News wrote the piano-playing crooner could be the "saving grace" of "American Idol." The pun (alluding to Connick's role on the hit show "Will and Grace") is as lackadaisically amusing as the singer's presence on the show -- irreverent and laid back, unassuming and impossible to ignore. And if the audience gives him a chance (and Season 13), he just might prove to be the show's saving grace.

At the very least, he could be the reason people continue to watch the show (well, that and the singing competition itself). It could get people re-excited about the show as well. Sans all the judges drama from prior seasons, it might just bring in some new viewers. And with a viewership that still counts itself over ten million strong, that could keep "American Idol" as a top ten rated show for years to come.

"American Idol" airs on Fox Television on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST.

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