"American Idol" may no longer be a ratings juggernaut, but it can still get hearts racing, especially when the celebrity judges come to town.
Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. were welcomed by 50 local finalists and their families Wednesday morning at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where they spent the afternoon deciding who would get to a ticket to Los Angeles next season.
"Last year, we put some people through that might not have had a great audition, but we put them through thinking that maybe they were just a little shy and that they'd come out of their shell. But it doesn't always work that way," Connick said shortly before listening to the contestants. "More times than not, as Jen pointed out to me, the performer you're getting on audition day is very similar to the performer you'll get at the end. So you've got to bring it right from the start."
One hopeful said she expected to be among the chosen few as she awaited her turn in a holding area filled with beanbag chairs, family supporters and lots of guitars.
"I'm pretty confident," said Cindy Jo Scholer, 26, of North Branch. "I think you have to be, because if you think about everybody else here, then the nerves are going to go up."
If anyone's nervous, it would be the producers of the show. Although it still ranks among television's 20 most-watched series, average viewership fell to 12.3 million in its 13th season, an all-time low. Fox Network officials have said that the show will be more "streamlined" when it returns in January, with roughly 37 hours of programming compared with 50-plus in the past.
Urban said he doesn't keep an eye on the ratings.
"We just do the best job we can," he said. "You have to be focused on the task at hand."