All three "American Idol" judges and host were in Nashville this week to cast season 14, and Nashville Edge had a chance to chat with them, including Nashville's own Keith Urban.
Keith, alongside fellow judges Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. and host Ryan Seacrest, were ready for a better round two on August 4 after seeing sub-par acts during their first day in town. It was also their first day reunited as the show's returning cast-mates.
"We just started the season yesterday -- our part of auditioning them [the contestants]," Ryan explained to Nashville Edge and other media outlets. "I know they saw a handful that were pretty good, but ... when we left last night they actually wanted today to be a bit better."
Reportedly more than 4,000 hopeful contestants showed up for Nashville's preliminary tryouts at the city's Municipal Auditorium one week prior to the judges' arrival. By August 3, however, the count had been whittled down to fewer than 100 applicants.
"It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was playing covers and just trying to sneak in an original song here and there -- hope the crowd didn’t leave -- and also hoping one day that I could maybe do all original material," Keith shared. "So to go from there to where I am today, it puts it all in perspective. I now see kids coming in at the very beginning ... just starting ... and just hoping to maybe go on [through the competition] and make an album."
Like Keith, Harry is also inspired by the contestants. As an "Idol" judge, he said, "you have a chance to potentially help a bunch of young performers and shepherd them through this industry, even if it's just for a few months. Some people say, 'I think it's better to pay your dues.' But, you're gonna pay your dues whether you do 'Idol' or not. All 'Idol' is gonna do is give you a few extra months of unbelievable experience and I think it's great. I love it."
But, Harry made clear, "I’m not a big fan when people come in [to auditions] and know they shouldn’t be here and they act silly. I like to see the real talent."
The judges also answered some burning questions. Will Keith, Jennifer and Harry collaborate again onstage in the coming season? "Only if it happens organically," said Jennifer. And does Harry plan on picking up another contestant in season 14? "We’ll see how it goes -- and see if someone comes in here and looks pick-up-able," he laughed.
"What do I love about the guys?," asked Jennifer of her fellow judges. "I love everything about both of them, and I'm not just saying that. I love how funny Harry is. And Keith, I love how passionate he is. He just loves music so much, and I feel like we’re similar in that way," she said. "It's really, really our first love -- and I'm not saying Harry doesn’t -- but I really feel that with Keith."
Dressed in a t-shirt from Nashville's Studio B, preserving "Music City" is clearly always on country fan-favorite Keith's mind. "It's not an easy conversation about 'the Row,'" he admited about the preservation campaign currently underway to save the city's musical landscape. "I'm just passionate about not having the situation where a bulldozer comes in and knocks a building down, and is then like, 'Oops sorry about that ... it's too late." He added, "Progress is a part of it ... I get it ... It's just important that everyone gets an open dialogue and discussion – pros and cons -- crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s -- before buildings are razed."
Considering the Nashville audition setting, Ryan said, "When you think back, the artists who've been most successful [on the show] have been country artists," remarked Ryan, clearly thinking of Carrie Underwood. "A lot of them talk about their dream, which is not only to be on the show and win, but, it's to move here [to Nashville] one day and perform."
Keith shared how he would have liked to have taken his fellow judges "for a ride in Leiper's Fork," a scenic town just outside of Nashville, but their chaotic set schedule didn't allow time. So instead, "In between takes we talk about places I go, and what I love about Nashville," he said.
Added Jennifer, "We did drive around in the pickup yesterday. We passed by Broadway and saw some [honky-tonks] from afar."
With Ryan returning as "Idol" host for his fourteenth year, and the trio of judges reuniting for a second time together, Ryan explained that "Idol" has been "tweaked" for the upcoming season, but said the ultimate goal is to "maintain the consistency of the show."
Contestants -- ages 15-28 -- are accepted via online auditions, social media, and a "silver ticket" promotion in conjunction with FOX affiliates. There is also an 11-stop bus tour to catch contestants outside of big cities. And in person, a piano accompaniment is now offered for all auditions.
"American Idol" returns to FOX in January 2015.