American Idol's new judging panel will have a familiar look to it.
Jennifer Lopez, a judge during seasons 10 and 11, and former mentor Harry Connick Jr. will join country star Keith Urban, the lone judging holdover from the most recent season of Fox's fading singing competition, which ended in May.
After a year with four judges, the show will revert to the three-panelist format of its heyday.
The network Tuesday announced the signings of singer-actress Lopez, a popular former judge, and Connick, a singer, pianist, composer and actor whose Idol mentoring appearances have been well received.
Other familiar faces will return, too. Original judge Randy Jackson, who left the panel in May, will be back as an in-house mentor, replacing Jimmy Iovine, and Ryan Seacrest continues as host.
"I have always been a huge fan of American Idol and really enjoyed my time as a mentor on the show," Connick said in a statement. "And I am honored that they've asked me to be a judge this season. As an entertainer, I am truly excited to bring my perspective to American Idol and to help emerging performers to find their way."
Lopez simply tweeted: "IDOL2014TheRemix."
Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly praised the new panel in a statement accompanying the announcement: "American Idol has always been about discovering the next singing superstar, and next season our judging panel will deliver a most impressive combination of talent, wisdom and personality to do just that: Jennifer Lopez, the triple-threat global superstar who loves Idol and whom Idol fans love; Harry Connick Jr., a bona fide musical genius and fantastic Idol mentor whose honesty and expertise can help turn these hopefuls into stars; (and) Keith Urban, a multi-Grammy-winning artist who was such a positive force on the show last season."
Idol enjoyed a ratings spike when Lopez and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler joined original judge Randy Jackson in 2011, a rare feat for a series in its 10th season. However, viewership dropped more than 20% in Season 11. And when Lopez and Tyler left after that year, ratings plunged more than 20% again in Season 12, which featured Jackson along with first-time judges Urban, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Many complained about the group's lack of chemistry, especially between sniping Minaj and Carey. All but Urban left the panel after the season ended.
Behind the camera, there was an overhaul, too. Fox reality chief Mike Darnell exited, and former Fox Sports chief David Hill now is at least temporarily overseeing the show. Longtime executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick are out, and Per Blankens, who has been in charge of Idol's Swedish edition, has assumed that title.
Idol has had its greatest success with a three-judge format. The first, longest-running and most successful panel included Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. But the show's declining audiences may have been hastened by newer competition from NBC's The Voice, and to a lesser extent Fox's own The X Factor, featuring former Idol judge Simon Cowell. Both return this month.
Idol has been conducting auditions for season 13 this summer, with recent stops in Boston, Austin and Omaha. The show's judges begin evaluating a select group of contestants Tuesday, prompting the last-minute announcement. season 13 will premiere as usual in January.
By Bill Keveney, USA Today