TV Column: Harry Connick Jr. steals 'Idol' show, says Lisa de Moraes

For Frank Sinatra night, Harry Connick Jr. not only mentors the remaining five Idols, but lends his musical savvy to compose the arrangements.
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, May 6, 2010

Though actor-singer Jamie Foxx is the latest alleged front-runner to replace Simon Cowell as top judge on "American Idol," the producers actually found the right guy for the gig during Tuesday's show.

The question is, did they notice?

Harry Connick Jr. stole the show -- and maybe the franchise -- when he not only mentored the remaining five Idolettes, but also did the arrangements for their songs, saving them from the singing competition's usual hit-or-miss orchestrations.

And, as if that weren't enough, Connick got behind the keyboards and played backup for each performance, the challenge this time being for each singer to croon a Frank Sinatra tune.

Connick, a.k.a. New Blue Eyes, treated his "Idol" gig as seriously as jury duty, in marked contrast to all those drive-by mentors who spent as little time as possible in the company of the Idolettes, preferring to simply use them as props for album-plugging. Foxx tops this list, too.

Turns out, Connick is also very funny -- unscripted funny, that is, as opposed to new judge Ellen DeGeneres's canned-corn cracks.

This was not lost on Ellen the Generous, who spewed Connick digs throughout the show in a effort to keep up, calling his piano playing a little pitchy during one number and nyuk-nyukking that she got "distracted by Harry's organ" after another.

"What I'm trying to do is feature the contestants by writing a supportive arrangement," Connick said during a taped bit in which he was seen at the ivories, tickling out one of the arrangements for Tuesday's performance show.

"I should be lying by the pool. Do you think Shania Twain was up in here doing this?" he said, about last week's phone-it-in mentor. Props to Connick for the first cross-mentor snipe in "Idol" history. And, by the way, for actually watching the show and knowing who was the previous week's mentor -- you think quasi-mentor Usher knew he followed quasi-mentor Miley Cyrus? Me neither.

The five down-to-the-wire Idolettes -- Aaron Kelly, Casey James, Michael Lynche, Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze -- couldn't stop talking about how funny, helpful, available and downright heroic Connick was, after that steady trail of see-ya-wouldn't-wanna-be-ya mentors to whom they'd been subjected.

During his time with DeWyze in rehearsal, Connick confided that his wife thinks DeWyze is "really cute." "He looks like a new and improved version of me," Connick joked, then said to DeWyze, "I'm not saying you're hot," while DeWyze giggled.

"That sounds awesome, man!" Connick told DeWyze after rehearsing with him.

"Not really!" Connick mouthed to the camera, while he and they guy-hugged and DeWyze could not see his face.

"The guy's full of jokes -- he's funny, cool, down-to-earth and more than willing to help," DeWyze marveled of Connick on Tuesday's show.

"Immediately, when you walk into the room, he cracks a joke, and any worries you have are gone," gushed Kelly.

"He's hilarious, and I couldn't stop laughing all the time -- which is great because I'm so freakin' nervous," James told the camera.

Foxx, meanwhile, was downright mean and dismissive to the Idolettes last season. His idea of mentoring Danny Gokey, for instance, involved putting his face literally inches from Gokey's, and insisting he was only space-invading to bring Gokey's performance to its "purest" and "truest" state, though the evidence showed it only convinced Gokey, and viewers, that Foxx was a head case.

And, of course, Fox's "Idol" drive-by mentoring last season came about a couple of weeks after he'd gone on his satellite radio show and suggested that the then 16-year-old pop star Miley Cyrus "make a sex tape and grow up," "get like Britney Spears and do some heroin," "do like Lindsay Lohan . . . and get some crack in your pipe," and "catch chlamydia on a bicycle seat" (Foxx later explained to NBC's "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno that he, Foxx, is a "comedian, and you guys know that whatever I say, I don't mean any of it").

But Foxx's drive-by was most notable for the nanosecond he spent with Adam Lambert, in which he said in a state of shock: "Absolutely incredible! You don't care about who I am at all!" (On this past Wednesday's results show, host Ryan Seacrest announced that Foxx is getting another at-bat in the mentor seat next week.)

Tuesday night, in an uncharacteristic spurt of savviness, Seacrest deputized Connick as the Fifth Judge after Casey James gave his historically bad performance of "Blue Skies."

"I think you sang it better in rehearsal, to be honest," Connick told Casey. "You killed it about two hours ago -- but that's not going to help you now!"

Oh, and stop me if you've heard the latest story about Jamie Foxx's upcoming album being so weak that his record-label suits have asked Justin Timberlake to play a larger role -- "to bring it up to speed," according to the New York Post.

Memo to Fox, re Foxx: Read your parent company's tabloid -- the answers are within!

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