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‘American Idol’ Season 13 Review: Musicality Takes Center Stage Again

It is always all about the judges on these TV talent shows and this trio makes me OK with that

Television talent shows like to say that it’s not about the judges. Of course, every season that’s indeed proven wrong.

“American Idol” returns for its thirteenth season and its producers have teased “small changes.” I’m sure those will come into play after the auditions. But from the one 2-hour premiere episode released ahead of Wednesday’s return, I can say that it is about the judges because they set the show’s tone.

Following a season of awkward, at times dangerously heated, moments between last season’s judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban is breathing easier sitting alongside returning judge Jennifer Lopez and former guest mentor-turned-judge Harry Connick, Jr.

See video: Jimmy Kimmel Talks ‘American Idol’ With Harry Connick Jr.: ‘Who Is the Mean Judge?’

In case you haven’t heard, they get along. Fox has clearly wanted that message to reach viewers. But, the new trio works for several reasons, one being that JLo is the lone diva.

Arguably, Connick, a former modern jazz child prodigy, can exhibit diva-like qualities but he also forces this panel to focus on craft and musicality. That in turn makes for a more discerning panel – Lopez does rise to Connick’s challenge and Urban is finally able to express himself — and thus better talent makes it through to Hollywood.

If you’ve followed the news at all – much of it broken by TheWrap – you’ll know that the path to this point wasn’t easy and there are several bodies left in the wake of tearing down the circus that was last season.

Also read: ‘American Idol’ Producers Talk ‘Small Changes,’ Randy Jackson’s Expanded Mentor Role

There are few other conclusions I can make on the show’s “small” format changes after viewing the premiere episode. “The Chamber,” which captures the moments just before singers go into the audition, just seems gimmicky, ineffective and unnecessary. Plus, a box with cameras in it doesn’t replace host Ryan Seacrest‘s pre-audition interviews — no matter how space age that box looks.

More changes teased by producers include new rounds, an emphasis on what songs mean to contestants that will replace the show’s tired theme weeks and an expanded role for judge-turned-mentor Randy Jackson – including a two-day workshop between him and the contenders.

But, this season is all about the judges. And that’s OK with me, because I think they’re going to make it truly competitive and emotional again.

Also read: Harry Connick Jr. to Mariah Carey: ‘American Idol’ Is Heaven Now

Remembering back to the first season, I actually took notes in order to remember whom I wanted to vote for. It was truly thrilling to see Kelly Clarkson pull out some last-minute vocal tricks during the finale and nab the win.

Music should be treated like a craft. TV shows should invoke emotion. And competition should be a battle. And that’s what I think this set of judges will do for the show.

“American Idol” returns Wednesday at 8/7c on Fox.