‘American Idol’ auditions in Salt Lake City air on Wednesday
Television • Word is that at least seven Utahns will advance to the next round of competition.
Published: January 30, 2014 10:50AM
Updated: January 29, 2014 03:10PM
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Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo People about to audition for "American Idol" cheer outside of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday July 11, 2013.

Pasadena, Calif. • “American Idol” judge Harry Connick Jr. said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the amount of talent that auditioned for the show in Salt Lake City last fall.

Viewers will get to see highlights of that when the Utah episode of “Idol” airs Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13.

“We had a great time there,” said judge Jennifer Lopez. “Lots of talent. And we’re having a great time this season.”

In Season 13, the judges not only get along, but they’re not out to humiliate contestants. New executive producer Per Blankens is putting on a kinder, gentler “American Idol,” largely avoiding the trope of putting bad singers up there as cannon fodder for the judges. And this judging triumvirate — Connick, Lopez and Keith Urban — has made the show entertaining again.

“When you watch a show, you want to see people having fun and having a laugh,” said host Ryan Seacrest. “This group definitely does that. They take the job very seriously, but we have so much fun doing it.”

Lopez said she feels “lucky” to work with “two people who I respect and have a good time with, and we all love music.”

Urban said the “synergy” among them was instantaneous. “We sat down and had dinner and it was just fluid.”

Which is not to say that the contestants are given a free pass. Connick is, to this point, the breakout star of “American Idol” 2014. He’s funny, charming and smart.

But he also expects more from contestants than a good sob story, which got many a singer through to the next round in years past.

Connick is nowhere near as harsh with “Idol” hopefuls as some of his teachers, “like Ellis Marsalis, who would say, ‘You should quit. You don’t have talent for this.’ ”

But he admits that in past seasons as a viewer, he would find himself saying, “ ‘Why won’t they tell them that they can’t sing?’ It’s OK to say that. Here’s the deal — you sign up to be judged by us, and we judge you. I don’t care about how you look or what happened in your personal life. … I’m responding to a performance.”

He said he’s not out to be mean; he sees himself as “a little bit blunt.”

“Direct,” Lopez interjected.

“But it’s never personal,” Connick added. “If I could wrap all these kids up and take them home, I would. But we’ve got to get on with the show, man. If somebody can’t sing, they need to go home.”

So, was he direct with contestants in Salt Lake City?

“Absolutely,” Connick said. “But that’s kinder in the long run than not telling them the truth. And we found some great talent in Salt Lake City.”

Word is that at least seven locals — along with some out-of-towners who came to Utah to audition — make it out of the Salt Lake auditions and are among the 200-plus contestants who advance to the next round.

spierce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ScottDPierce