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Posted 01.15.14

American Idol: Why We're Just Wild About Harry

American Idol has recaptured its magic, and Harry Connick Jr. is responsible for casting the spell.

On the Season 13 premiere Wednesday, the new Idol judge not only obliterated the memory of last year's mockery of a panel, but also revitalized the spirit of the show. It's an impressive feat when you consider that Idol has been on a downward trajectory when it comes to ratings and its image. Although it's still too early to tell if Connick's charms will translate into an uptick in viewership, we're completely sold on him.

Harsh troublemaker: The two sides of new Idol judge Harry Connick Jr.

What's so great about the new Idol judge? Here are eight reasons we're wild about Harry:

1. He's freakin' hilarious. Part goofy and part manic, it's clear why Jennifer Lopez looks like she doesn't know what hit her most of the time. The guy's joy is infectious, and we're so thrilled that the equally likeable Keith Urban finally has a real pal on the panel. We would pay to see Harry do stand-up.

2. He's a dedicated family man. On the premiere, it's clear he takes his fatherhood duties seriously, as evidenced by his aversion to young girls singing inappropriate lyrics and granting his daughter permission to have a tattoo. At the Television Critics Association winter TV previews on Monday, he related a story about his honeymoon and concluded, "I married the girl of my dreams, and I'm so happy, I don't even see another couple."

3. He's honest and genuine. While it's true that many of Connick's critiques can come off as harsh, it's clear that it comes from a place of honesty and doesn't have any of the malicious zing of Simon Cowell's comments. When he doesn't like something, he's not going to pretend. "I'm responding to a performance," he explained. "And I don't believe you have to couch your critique in some compliment. That's my style ... If somebody can't sing, they need to go home."

4. He wants to help. Connick's critiques aren't just honest, but also informative. "You have to be specific with them, you know: 'I didn't like the performance. Here's exactly why,'" he says. "You're not going to see me just basing stuff on subjectivity. It's unfair to them. When I didn't play or sing right when I was coming up, they'd say, 'Stop. Here's what you need to work on.' And then you go work on it."

5. He's got the musical chops and smarts. Connick isn't just a seasoned performer (he began playing publicly at age 5) but also a musician with an extensive knowledge of musical theory. This means that he can really pinpoint and articulate what is wrong in his critiques. Getting a negative review from Connick may not be fun, but it's valuable.

6. He's humble
. At the live Q&A on Tuesday night, Connick described himself with the word "struggling" because he feels he's always struggling to be a better father, husband, musician, person and more. "It consumes me," he admitted. "We want to be better people."

7. He's easy on the eyes
. Connick completes the trifecta of this unfairly good-looking panel. His particular appeal, though, is that hint of mischief in his eyes.

8. He has high standards
. Connick is a longtime Idol fan and wants to find someone with the skills and tenacity to live up to the title, and that means someone who is like himself, always growing and hungry for more. "Somehow in music, it's OK not to know anything about your craft," he said. "I profoundly disagree with that, and I will tell every kid that comes in, whether they're educated or not, 'You need to work on your craft.' It has nothing to do with passion. My definition of passion is somebody who learns everything they can about what they love." Already we feel that his demand for excellence has rubbed off on his fellow judges and on the contestants, thereby elevating the Idol competition.

What is your take on Harry Connick Jr.? Vote in our poll and share your thoughts in the comments below.

American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8/7c on Fox.

Hanh Nguyen, TV Guide