(Photo: Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images)
PASADENA, Calif. - Whatever else changes on American Idol for Season 13, the judges are starting out in better spirits.
The new but familiar panel - Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. - told writers at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Monday about the new era of good feeling on the show (Fox, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET/PT).
"I'm lucky enough to sit between two people who I respect and have a good time with," said Lopez, who, like her colleagues, has a previous history with the show.
The mood contrasted with the tension seen in last season's judging panel, which was dominated by ill feeling between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Urban is back from that foursome, with original judge Randy Jackson becoming the in-house mentor.
The judges and producers didn't talk much about last year - the second straight season where ratings plunged by more than 20% - with Urban sidestepping a question about the lack of chemistry by referring to the resolution of a non-existent feud with host Ryan Seacrest. "Ryan and I worked it out," he joked.
Still, the presentation made an implicit comparison, trying to convey that Idol is going to be more enjoyable for both the judges and the audience.
"We have a very shared spirit," Urban said. "That's what I felt with both of them, with Ryan, too, and Randy as well. There's the balance between being very focused and (having) discussions about the craft but also having fun with it."
Connick showed a self-deprecating sense of humor, referring to being misidentified as Tony Connick, but was quite serious about the effort needed to become a good singer. "I will tell every kid that comes, whether you're dedicated or not, you need to work on your craft."
Beyond the judges, Idol is making other changes, including adding new producers and a new director.
Successful audition singers will face a new Hollywood or Home round (Feb. 5) that will eliminate some before they even unpack their bags for the traditional Hollywood Week round of shows. After Hollywood, 30 remaining singers will compete in the three-night Rush Week, the season's first live shows. Viewer votes will determine the 13 finalists, with that group performing live on Feb. 26.
Jackson will conduct a workshop with the singers, too.
"It's still American Idol," executive producer Trish Kinane said. However, the many changes "I think have made a fresher whole."
The show premieres Wednesday with auditions from Boston and Austin and Thursday (8 p.m. ET/PT) from Austin and San Francisco. The show then travels to Detroit, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Omaha for remaining auditions.
(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)