‘American Idol’ judges feel the love from Utah talent
Television • ‘Super nice” auditioners just want a hug — and a ticket to the next round.
Published: October 4, 2013 04:30PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:35PM
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Judge Jennifer Lopez is seen at the "American Idol" finale on Wednesday, May 25, 2011, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“American Idol” judges were in town on Wednesday and Thursday scouting for talent, and they were pleasantly surprised by what they found.

They were also pleasantly surprised by how pleasant people in Salt Lake City are.

“There are a lot of huggers here in Salt Lake City,” said Ryan Seacrest, who returns as host of the long-running Fox singing competition.”

Jennifer Lopez, who returns to the judging panel after a one-year hiatus, positively gushed about the contestants who auditioned at the Salt Lake Marriott Hotel. They were “super nice” — even those “who you could feel that their dreams were crushed because, of course, we can’t give a ticket to everybody. They were still so polite.”

Seacrest, Lopez, judges Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. were in town to follow up on the open auditions here in July. A few hundred hopefuls who made it past the first round were hoping to win a ticket to the Hollywood round of auditions.

“There was a lot of talent here,” Connick said. “Which is really cool, because, frankly, you don’t think of Salt Lake City as a music town. You just don’t. And I think all of us were pleasantly surprised.”

This is “Idol’s” third stop on the Season 13 audition tour — after Austin, Texas, and Boston — and “in comparison to some of the other cities as well, we were blown away,” Lopez said. “There were a lot of people that we wound up putting through, and that we think could really go the distance.”

“It was the first time we almost ran out of golden tickets,” Seacrest said.

(“American Idol” doesn’t release information about who goes through to save some suspense for when it returns in January.)

The show’s ratings have declined significantly in recent years, but it still averaged nearly 15 million viewers last season. And “Idol” is trying harder. In 2008, the last time the show held auditions in Utah, the judges did no interviews.

This time, Connick, Lopez, Seacrest and Urban granted a few minutes to the press, and did so with as little attitude as all those Utah auditioners.

Maybe it’s because compared to past seasons, there seems to be no tension among the judges. No viral videos of judges screaming at each other. (Hello, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj!) Lopez just laughed at that thought.

“They’re coming,” Seacrest joked. “It’ll happen.”

More seriously, he said, “We’ve had a great time together. We all enjoy hanging out with each other and traveling together and doing the show together.”

spierce@sltrib.com