‘American Idol’: Are Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban And Harry Connick, Jr. The Series’ Best-Ever Judges? Pundits Weigh In As Finale Nears

The series finale of American Idol is just days away, and as Season 15 of the once-iconic show comes to a close, media has been reviewing past winners of the phenomenon that promised to pull amateur singers out of obscurity and turn them into superstars. Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, and Jennifer Hudson are just a few of the names that got their start on Idol even if, in the cases of Lambert and Hudson, they didn’t actually win.

Rolling Stone, as it invited readers to vote on the best-ever American Idol performance, summed up the appeal of Idol with reference to the music and the people who bring it to life on the show week after week.

“The series has been a rare combination of having interesting personalities carry over from each season — the judges, host Ryan Seacrest — and finding genuine talent and creating actual stars from the competition series.”

And what of those judges? Over 15 years, the faces behind the judging table have rotated frequently, even including a beloved performer who doesn’t sing but likes to dance (Ellen DeGeneres). This year, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr. are the critics who held the golden tickets. According to some pundits who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter, they may be the series’ best ever group of judges.

Opinion on that point varied, however. THR spoke with journalists who have followed Idol and asked them to look back on the show. While five of the seven journalists named either Simon Cowell alone, the original trio of Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, or the Season 8 panel that also included Kara DioGuardi, as the best ever, both Brian Mansfield of USA Today and Rodney Ho of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution singled out the current judges. Mansfield admitted the original panel built the show into what it was, but said he knows Keith Urban and admires Harry Connick, Jr., leading him to choose those three as his standouts.

Ho cited the current judges’ weight in terms of talent and experience as to why he chose them as his favorite.

“[T]hey provide generally solid critiques, they get along and they have credibility as successful musicians. I understand the appeal of the original trio but they eventually wore out their welcome.”

DioGuardi told The New York Post this weekend that her Idol experience helped her to grow, as she’d always been a behind-the-scenes personality. Being in a judge’s chair meant she had to take great care with her comments.

“Ultimately, it made me a stronger person and also helped me be a better A&R person, to be really accountable and concise about what I said.”

Randy Jackson, who confirmed he will be on-hand for the American Idol finale, told Yahoo what he missed most about the show. Of the original judging panel, Jackson stayed put the longest, through Season 12. He was a talent mentor on Season 13.

“I guess I really miss the camaraderie that we had and the chemistry that me, Simon, Ryan [Seacrest], and Paula had. Whether you love each of us, love all of us, or don’t… the acts that we helped, most of them went on to great success. So I guess you can say the proof of concept actually worked.”

American Idol fans who want a serious dose of nostalgia will have three episodes this week to watch. On Tuesday, there will be a 90-minute retrospective special featuring reflections from the original judging panel and past contestants. Season 15’s final three will have one last chance to impress voters on Wednesday night. On Thursday, the last American Idol episode will feature the crowning of the last winner. The last show will feature a parade of performances by past contestants.

American Idol airs on Fox.

[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]