Harry Connick Jr. has been a familiar face on television for more than 20 years, with primetime sitcom guest spots and and two Emmy-winning music specials under his belt. Recently he appeared on the final seasons of American Idol, but starting Sept. 12 the crooner will bring the late night party vibe to daytime with Harry, a new entertainment series that will incorporate celebrity guests, funny videos, and lots of music.
The multi-talented star seems tailor-made for the endeavor, but he admits that the dream gig is very different from his experience judging singing hopefuls.
“I had a great time on Idol, but I didn’t learn anything about [hosting] this show because it’s a completely different world,” Connick, 48, says while giving PEOPLE an exclusive tour of the program’s gleaming new set.
“When they hired me to be a judge for that show I was really excited about it and I loved it, but that’s a very specific thing to do. I like hanging with people, and I couldn’t talk to the kids. That was my rule because if I was a judge, I didn’t want to lose my ability to be impartial. So if I saw them backstage I would stay away from them because I took that job seriously. But this is not that. I’m not judging people here, this is just having a good time.”
While he won’t be using many of the skills honed during his time on Idol, Connick says he will take a cue from great TV hosts of the past and present. For inspiration he cites everyone from Steve Allen and Johnny Carson to Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.
“I think people like Ellen and Oprah brought their own thing to the table. Hopefully, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll be able to do that. There have been so many people who have really defined what they do. What’s interesting to me is that this [show] is different.”
In keeping with his own sensibilities Harry will be kept as fast as loose as one of Connick’s improvised jazz solos.
“Whenever I’m on a show, or whenever I perform a show, it’s really important for me to not have a plan,” he says with a laugh. “So all of the practicing and rehearsing I’ve done my whole life is just to get me to a point where I feel like I can do anything that I want to do.”
For him, this spontaneity is the key to keeping the show fresh and making it stand out on the crowded daytime television landscape. Harry will boast a series of signature taped segments, including one dubbed “I Got This.” The piece follows Connick as he drops in on hardworking men and woman in their homes or places of business to give them a day of pampering while he takes over their daily duties. While many shows trade on surprising the unsuspecting public, Harry is unique because the host will be just as in the dark. “They don’t know that I’m coming … and I don’t know who I’m going to see!”
This sense of ad-libbed whimsy will carry over into the studio. Connick vows to keep things as unstructured as possible, even eschewing traditional pre-show interviews with his guests.
“What’s going to keep it fresh for me is walking out here everyday and not being told specifically every single beat of the show,” he explains. “I’m not going to be there with a blue card with questions on it, because for me, it sucks all of the energy out of [things]. The producers are going to be surprising me all the time, and they might be surprising guests.”
For more behind-the-scenes details on Harry Connick Jr.’s new daytime show, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
He continues: “Some people love to say, ‘OK, who’s coming? What are they bringing?’ and they like to prepare. I’m the absolute opposite of that. I like to be completely surprised. So when you show up everyday with a different group of people, with different music, meeting different people that are on the show, I think that in itself help keep it fresh.”
Harry will make its debut on FOX on Sept. 12. Check your local listings or visit HarryTV.com for details.