By Carl Kozlowski
Harry Connick Jr. has spent the last 30 years entertaining America as one of Hollywood’s most versatile talents: singer, songwriter, pianist, actor, and “American Idol” host. Now he’s the star of the daytime talk show “Harry”, which airs primarily on local Fox affiliate stations nationwide.
Connick’s devout Catholic faith has also guided him throughout his career, as well as his 27-year marriage to model Jill Goodacre and as a father to three daughters. Connick spoke with Carl Kozlowski for Catholic News Agency about how he ties it all together while keeping his personal value system firmly in place.
CNA: You’ve spent 30 years in the public eye, singing, performing, acting, and hosting American Idol. How’d you decide now’s the time for a talk show?
Connick: I was working with Justin and Eric Spangle, who used to be writers and executive producers at Letterman, on a different project a few years ago. We talked about doing a daytime show, not just a talk show but one that combined all the things I love to do: entertaining, singing, comedy; just a party show in the middle of the afternoon. There was nothing quite like what we had in mind. When we pitched it the network liked it, and we put a team together quick.
CNA: You’re very outspoken about your faith. Does it have an influence on the show?
Connick: I’m sure it does influence my decisions. The decisions I make and my faith and values are entwined. All I really want – when I pray , I don’t really ask for anything. All I want to do is God’s will and make the best decisions I can. I don’t go out and preach. This show is about being aspirational and inspirational. All I want is to make the best decisions. Faith is an extra big part of my life, which we like to show on the show rather than talk about. Faith, family and community are things that we show by example. We don’t go into politics or heavy social issues. We want to give people a respite from their day and some entertainment. It’s hard to articulate how my Catholic faith affects the show, but I’m sure it’s a subconscious part of it.
CNA: I’m a professional standup comic as well, so I relate. Our faith affects where you find your taste, or draw the line.
Connick: We try to find people on the show, or do things on the show, that are the highest things I can do – leaders in their community, inspirations in what they do, shining examples of what craft and hard work can do. You do that, and it falls into place. We’re standing somewhere else. If I keep striving to put on the best quality show based on the values I have, I don’t have to think “oh we’re crossing the line” because the line is built in. We follow that and do the best quality work we can.
CNA: How does your faith help you navigate the world of showbiz? You’ve been married forever by Hollywood standards, and are never in tabloids. Does faith help you in that regard?
Connick: All I can do is worry about me and my family. I don’t really worry about anybody else, they have to do what works for them. I wake up everyday and try to be the best husband, father and entertainer I can be. I’m no different offstage or talking to you or onstage than I am going to dinner with my family. It’s all the same place and I apply the same values to all I do. It works for me. Many people in and out of showbiz live their lives in different ways. I try to be the best I can be. But people who get married don’t always stay married. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been with my wife for 27 years. But if you think of the public lives of people who’ve been unlucky, it seems showbiz is some tumultuous crazy world but some are fortunate and some unfortunate. All I can do is keep striving to be better.
CNA: What’s your favorite part of doing the show, and what’s your biggest challenge?
Connick: My favorite part is going out with the audience every day and meeting them, sharing this tightrope experience with them. The experience is so broad, from playing music to laughing and learning. These shows are very planned, but I said I don’t want to know about stuff . And if someone wants to show me how to be a lumberjack and saw pieces of wood, I want to learn on the spot. I want to experience it with the audience. I think it was hard for them to believe that I really don’t want to know. At this point, they don’t tell me anything. I show up and get surprised, and I don’t think you can fake that. We’re all in sync on that.
CNA: Doing the soundtrack for “When Harry Met Sally” blew you up. What was that like?
Connick: I remember that vividly. I had a couple albums out that sold well for who I was at the time and the type of music I played. But it was warp speed with Harry; people started recognizing my name and face and it helped sell bigger venues. I had a bigger spotlight and I had to live up to it but I thrived under that challenge. It expedited the creative process. If I was on stage in front of 300 people instead of 30, I had to work harder at my performances because I had a greater responsibility. It was very exciting, but creative too.
CNA: Your hero seems to be Sinatra, and now you have a similar career in acting, singing, and live concerts.
Connick: I’m a big fan of Sinatra, he was the best at what he did. The last thing I do is model my career after him, though, because we do different things. He was a great singer and a great actor … It never crossed my mind to emulate his career, because we have different interests. I love orchestrating music and conducting and being on Broadway. He was an incredible artist, the best at what he did, but it never occurred to me to model my career after what he did. There was no one I modeled my career after because there was no one else who did what I did. The reasons I never set out to do a talk show is they’re formulaic. People come out, tell jokes and read questions. But that’s not what I do, and we built the show around my skill set. So far, I don’t know of a daytime host who hosts and is the musical director for the band. You have to do things that do good for you and when there’s an uncharted course, you have to figure out how to get through it.
CNA: Out of all your performing skill sets, what is your favorite thing to do?
Connick: I think it’s the variety of it. I love entertaining, I love to sing, I love to make people laugh, I love learning and meeting people. I love acting, Broadway, standing in front of an orchestra and conducting a piece of orchestration .This show is so fun because it allows me to fire on all cylinders everyday.