Michael Becker/Fox
March 19, 2014 at 02:00 PM EDT

When Harry Connick Jr. joined the judging panel of American Idol this season, fans were hit with a fresh perspective behind the desk with some musical critiques that hadn’t been heard in the show’s previous 12 seasons. Connick had appeared on the show before as a mentor and was a fan in the past, watching with his family at home. But following in the footsteps of Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, Connick took his role as judge pretty seriously from the moment he was hired, as frustrating as it may be.

“The most frustrating thing is that the job is to judge,” Connick told EW. “It’s not to be a mentor, it’s not to be a cheerleader, it’s not to be best friends, it’s not to wrap the kids up in a blanket and try to give them as much information that you can; it’s to judge. And that’s what I was hired to do. You have about 30 seconds to be very succinct with information that you think will help them to grow and you know, like, a woman came up to me the other day who I’ve known for years and said, ‘You use the word “sharp” a lot. What does that mean?’ I was shocked, and this was someone I’ve known for 10 or 15 years and I was like, ‘Really?’ That’s something you learn on the first day of music class. Some of these kids don’t even know that. So I wish this was a six-hour show and I could give them information, but that’s not the gig.”

Harry’s gig is to bring a new point of view to the Idol panel, and the Emmy and Grammy winner is not hurt by his new nickname around town — Harsh Harry — though no one has said it to his face yet. “I think some people might be a little taken by some of the things I say,” he said. “Now, I was taught by some harsh people — people who said I should get out of music, I should quit. That’s really harsh. So to tell somebody, ‘Here’s what I think you can work on,’ I don’t interpret that as harsh. I think the harshest thing I could do would be to have an opportunity to give them some information to help them but, ‘No, that was good, man. You did a good job.’ To me, that’s mean. If I’m sitting up there, I feel like I need to help them.”

Harry did get a chance to perform on last week’s results show, but he gives the contestants doing it every week a lot more credit. “Listen, I’m 46 years old. I’ve done this since I was 5. I’ve been on a lot of stages. Some of these kids are 15 years old, and all of a sudden they are taken out of their small towns and put on a stage that big. Even their worst performance is impressive on some level.”

As for getting to know the contestants outside of their performances, Harry says he chooses not to fraternize to remain unbiased. “I don’t look at the backstory. I don’t want to know that. I want to judge their performance, not if their mother-in-law is sick in the hospital. I’m sorry about that, but I want to judge the performance.” Harry said he really meets the contestants for the first time after they have been eliminated to avoid any conflict. Luckily, Harry has his own support at home no matter what from his wife Jill and three daughters, Georgia, Sarah, and Charlotte. “They know what I do and how passionate I am about music. They think it’s a great opportunity for me to share my knowledge with some great up-and-coming performers. I think they like it.”

See if Harry will like tonight’s top 10 perform on American Idol at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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