American Idol Is Ready for One Final Season of Standout Talent

Rob Moynihan
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr
Michael Becker / FOX. © FOX Broadcasting.

After 15 seasons and millions of records sold, the final installment of American Idol kicks off tonight with the Denver and Atlanta auditions. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. return with the singular goal of discovering top talent.

“People are going to come in and sing as best they can no matter what the season is,” Urban says during a break in filming Hollywood Week. “But there was more than one person who looked like they were going to get a ‘no’ begging and pleading, saying, ‘I have to get a ‘yes’ because there’s no coming back!’”

Since 2002, Idol has been a force in both the music and TV industries, attracting over 30 million viewers at its peak and launching the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Phillip Phillips. “It’s a combination of the American Dream and the Cinderella story,” Connick says. “I remember Kelly’s audition and when she won. I remember Fantasia singing ‘Summertime.’ It’s an institution!”

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The judges all agree that, this year, San Francisco is the standout audition city (“It just has a killer density of talent,” Urban says) and note that guitar-toting singer-songwriters arrived in droves. “We’re still looking for old-school charisma and talent,” Connick says, “someone who can sell records, sell out concerts and make a career of this.”

The contestants weren’t the only ones coveting the “golden tickets” to Hollywood (more than 200 were distributed). “I took a handful of them,” Urban admits with a laugh. “That’s how I’m going to earn my income next year!”

American Idol, Season premiere, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 8/7c, Fox