'American Idol' top 13 party, on the scene: Judges and finalists talk format changes, song choices, more

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Image Credit: Michael Tran/FilmMagic

The lucky 13 finalists for season 13 of American Idol were revealed Thursday night, and immediately after, the group got to celebrate together in Hollywood. This week marked the first live shows of the new season, which has seen many format changes from previous years.

One of those changes is the just-finished Rush Week, which featured a workshop with former judge Randy Jackson and the help of Idol alums Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry. New judge Harry Connick Jr. also got the first “boo” of the season for his song-choice critiques to some of the female contestants. EW was on the scene and got the judges’ take on the changes to the season, and why Harry said he liked being booed, as the finalists meet the press for the first time.

One thing that becomes immediately clear when you look at the new group of finalists is that they are all very young. In fact, most of them weren’t able to have a champagne toast once inside.

“It’s kind of like Indie Idol,” Jackson said. “It’s very different than things we had before. It feels fresh and new.” As part of the many changes to the season, Jackson has now taken on a mentor role to the contestants, getting to see a very different side of the process after 12 seasons as a judge. “I’m an evolution guy. I did everything I said or could do as a judge. But I’m a nurturer at heart, so I’m excited about this new role, to get to interact with the kids.” Though he called Rush Week “tough,” Jackson likes the revamp, saying that the middle rounds of the competition were “always a little sluggish.”

Connick is also a fan of the rushed middle rounds. “This was dragging out too long. I kind of agree as a fan of the show, doing what they did in three weeks in just one,” the new judge told EW. “It’s definitely more intense this way and a much more in-your-face, rapid-fire way of doing it, but ultimately America wants to be engaged in the process, and I think they want to start voting for the people who they know are going to be in the competition. I think it’s a good change.” As for getting some negative attention for some of his critiques, Connick welcomes the interaction, but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much either. “As a performer, you would hope not to get booed, but I love it here because it shows that people are engaged. I’m so focused on these performers that a bomb could go off and it wouldn’t change what I had to say.”

“Harry gets technical,” host Ryan Seacrest said. “It’s good to have him on board for his clever sense of humor as well as his technical genius.” 

The contestants definitely share the love too. “Harry is so amazing,” finalist Majesty Rose told EW. “He’s like our father and he’s hilarious. How could you not love him?” The feeling seems to be mutual, though Harry wishes he was allowed to reciprocate more. “I wish I could take them all home and sit them at the piano,” Connick joked. “I have to remain impartial and can’t know what’s going on. I have much less involvement now than I did when I was a mentor.” But the family man showed his soft side and hugged all of the contestants after being eliminated, telling them that “this particular moment wasn’t yours.”

Not all the judges are convinced by the changes to the show. “I understand we have to get rid of them quickly, but it’s a bit harsh,” Keith Urban told EW. “I’m just not sure what we should base it on because if you think about the audition process to be a dancer on Broadway, I mean that’s just completely crushing and cruel and heartless, and it’s just all of those things. Should it be any different from that? Why should it be any more gentle? It’s just the world that you’re trying to hear a yes in.” Seacrest, who has hosted the show since season 1, definitely sees the potential in the revamp. “It was different, it made it intense. Certainly every time I went back to that chamber, it was uncomfortable for those contestants. It was really hard for them. But I think it was a good way to get us to where we are.”

American Idol returns to weekly live performance shows starting Wednesday on Fox with results the following night. Before the competition really begins, here are some of our favorite quotes from the young Idol hopefuls, when all of their dreams were still fresh and within reach.

“My eyes are hurting from all these flashbulbs!” - Ben Briley 

“The judging panel is incredible. Totally different aspects of the music industry, and when they offer critiques, each critique is totally different and completely valued.” - Alex Preston 

“Rock and roll is not as successful as it once was. You have to go find it cause it’s not on the radio as much. Rock and roll started everything and went against everything. There are elements in Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, but there is some really crappy stuff out there.” - Caleb Johnson

“I didn’t know what was going to happen. Spencer is a good-looking guy, you know?” - C.J. Harris on his wild card chances

“I didn’t want to say what it was really about!” - Jena Irene Asciutto on Harry Connick Jr. asking her to explain the meaning behind “Paint It Black”

“I picked something current to catch America’s attention so they wouldn’t forget me. Just got my Janelle Monae on and wanted to be the one America could not forget.” - Majesty Rose

“It’s been a wild ride, but I’m willing to keep my seat belt on.” - Malaya Watson

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