Unlike the nervous "American Idol" hopefuls performing onstage, new judge Harry Connick Jr. has no anxiety about his new gig.
"It's not rocket science, right?" he told reporters during a conference call Thursday. "It's a very simple concept. They hired us to judge, and all these young performers sign up to be judged. That's it. They sing, we judge, it's pretty easy."
The warm welcome extended by veteran panelists Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban also smoothed his transition from mentor to judge.
"From the very first contestant we saw it just felt very natural," he said. "I really love being up there with them. They're extremely bright people, highly successful, have very strong work ethics and very strong convictions about what they do, and they're the best in the business at their respective jobs."
And the contestants have the benefit of the judges' diverse backgrounds. "We're completely different," Connick said. "We're different brains, different personalities, different philosophies."
When asked to name the biggest "troublemaker" in the group, Connick laughed. "We're all kind of troublemakers in a way — we all kind of goof around and are silly sometimes. … But if you had to pick the person who's goofiest, it would probably be me, but we all get silly — and serious and sentimental. All of us are complex people."
After a lifetime spent as both a student and mentor in the entertainment business, Connick believes honesty is always the best policy.
"Sometimes you do have to give bad news, and sometimes the best thing a kid can hear is the truth," he explained. "In fact, all times that's the best thing they can hear. Sometimes the performances are great, sometimes the performances are terrible. And I would love to be told, or I would love my friends or children to be told, the absolute truth.
"I think you can be diplomatic about it, but you also have to be real. You have to tell it like it is."
For example, one group during Wednesday's Hollywood auditions "was, I thought, horrible. I don't think you have to make personal commentary to people ... it's got to do with the performance. And I thought it was terrible. And I said that was terrible — I couldn't wait for it to end. And then you move on to the next one, and they come out and give a killer performance. It's a very healthy, honest, spontaneous environment, and it feels right to me."
As a guest mentor last year, Connick was quick to criticize the contestants who didn't understand the lyrics they were singing. That won't change in his new role as judge.
"Oh yeah — that's huge for me," he said. "You need to know what you're singing about. And interestingly to me it's not that important to a lot of singers. They can sing but they're not connected to the lyric. That's profound to me. It's interesting to talk about on this great show."
A fan of the show since its first episode, Connick enthused about his new job, "Every time 'American Idol' is on the calendar, I just bound out of bed with great excitement and enthusiasm. It's really, really fun. It's extremely intense — the days are long, it's very emotional — but it's just the wildest ride. It is a great show with great people at the helm and we're just having a blast."
"American Idol" returns to the Fox line-up with a two-part premiere that will air Jan. 15 and Jan. 16.