Harry Connick Jr.

On a Wednesday afternoon in Hollywood, a group of American Idol hopefuls wait to hear their fate, but it's not music to their ears.

"If this were a football game, you lost this game," new Season 13 judge Harry Connick Jr. tells them. "Technically, all four of you should be cut."

VIDEO: Check out the first footage of American Idol Season 13

This assessment is just one of a string of painful comments the Grammy- and Emmy-winning artist has doled out during the notoriously challenging Hollywood Week rounds. He also criticizes one group's harmonies, wishing that they sang in unison because they were "all out of tune anyway," and when one girl promises that "This won't happen again," he states ominously, "It may not."

Tough? Yes. But a necessary part of the job. "Sometimes you do have to give bad news," he tells reporters on a call Thursday. "Sometimes that's the best thing that these kids can hear is the truth. In fact, at all times that's the best thing they can hear... And I would want to be told or I would want my friends or children to be told the absolute truth. I think you can be diplomatic about it, but you also have to be real. You have to tell it like it is. There was one group that came out yesterday that I thought was horrible... and I said, 'That was terrible. I couldn't wait for it to end.'"

Connick's brutal honestly has earned him the nicknames "Harsh Harry" and "Hatchet Harry" in the competition. This tough love, however, is how Connick learned. "As a kid, when my teachers would critique me and it happened every day for years and years and years," he says. "You develop a tolerance for it, especially when it's right and when it's sincere and when it helps you. Nowadays, if I do something wrong and there's somebody that I know and love says, 'Hey man, that was a mistake,' I'm at the point in my life when I can admit it almost immediately."

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On the flip side of Harsh Harry, however, is the jokester that very clearly enjoys horsing around with returning judges Jennifer Lopez and country star Keith Urban. Check out this footage from the early audition rounds to see their chemistry:



"I really love being up there with them," Connick raves. "They're extremely bright people, highly successful, have very strong work ethics and very strong convictions about what they do. They're the best in the business at their respective jobs."

As for their jocular camaraderie, Connick reluctantly admits to leading the shenanigans. "We're all kind of troublemakers in the way that we all goof around and act silly sometimes," he says. "I've been like that since I was a kid. I was kind of the class clown. It's really hard to label people, you know, but I guess if you had to pick the person who was the goofiest, it would probably be me."

Fortunately for some of the (better) contestants, the crooner is just as warm, friendly and cheeky with them -- if they've earned it. In this sneak preview, one Texas fan gets up close and personal with his idol:



Are you wild about Harry and the return of American Idol?

American Idol kicks off lucky Season 13 on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 8/7c on Fox.