Last week, Fox officially confirmed the return of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr. as judges for Season 14 of American Idol, and the "Cop Car" singer couldn't be happier.
"I think what this show is about at its core and its heart is as purposeful as it's ever been," says Urban, who will be back for his third go-round as a judge.
Plus, he gets a kick out of his fellow judges. If he and Connick haven't developed the obvious "bromance" that Blake Shelton and Adam Levine exhibit on The Voice, they have still connected in a meaningful way. "He feels like a brother to me," Urban tells Rolling Stone Country. "We're very different as people, but I love his heart and I love his musicality. I love his sense of humor. And I just know that when we're in the audition cities, which I'm looking forward to doing, they're so much fun because we just riff [on] stuff all day." (Next stop for auditions is Uniondale, New York on July 23rd.)
Urban and Lopez also have an easygoing, genial relationship, perhaps because he never bought into rumors of her being a diva — or at least not in the traditional sense. "I think the word 'diva' gets misused a lot of times by people because my definition of it is someone who knows exactly what is required to protect and keep healthy and guide and safe-keep the gift and what they have to offer," he says. "Why can a guy protect his gift and say, 'Well this is what I need,' and when he does that he's called a very clever businessman, but a woman's called a B-I-T-C-H, or a diva, I don't understand."
As he gets more and more used to the show's rhythms, Urban increasingly understands what makes a good contestant.
"It's a strange mix of things that this show is trying to do," he says. "Real talent might not make for a really good show, so there's a mix of agendas going on, and they're all valid. Finding really great artistry is important. Seeing it in people sometimes is very difficult to do."
In fact, he goes so far as to say as a judge, he probably would have passed on his younger self. "I would not have seen what I eventually became in me. I mean that very, very objectively and unbiasedly. I was a pretty average singer, OK guitar player. There was nothing overly special — not that I can see," he says. "But I had some sort of determination. That counted for me. But if I had judged me on one of these shows, I wouldn't have thought I'd have the career I was going to have. At all. I just would have thought, 'I don't know. Do I see an artist? Sell a lot of records? Have a longterm career? No'."
And then, he bursts into good-natured laughter before adding, "So what do I know?"
American Idol will return in January 2015 with a shorter season, trimmed to 37 hours down from the more than 50 hours in seasons past.