March 24, 2016 07:00 PM

As a judge on American Idol, Jennifer Lopez has helped guide thousands of aspiring singers, but the show has also made a marked difference in her own life.

“I truly love it, and I think America loves it – and that’s why it’s been [on] so long,” Lopez, 46 – who’s currently starring in NBC’s hit show Shades of Blue, judging on Idol and performing in Las Vegas for her residency – says in The Jess Cagle Interview with People and Entertainment Weekly‘s editorial director. “To see it reach its end is sad.”

Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.
Ray Mickshaw/ FOX

Watch more of The Jess Cagle Interview with Jennifer Lopez on PEOPLE.com all this week.

Her first season as a judge in 2011 “was a sort of reintroducing me after having the babies and being away for a while,” says the star, who has 8-year-old twins Max and Emme with ex-husband Marc Anthony. “Also for my self-esteem … I had realized I wasn’t feeling great about myself, and then when I was on Idol and people were seeing me and they were like, ‘We like her,’ honestly … That’s nice.”

For more on Jennifer Lopez’s gritty new show and her happy life now, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Though she’d been in the spotlight for decades already and “felt that people knew who I was, like they could feel my heart,” it wasn’t until she took her turn as a judge that Lopez realized “they really didn’t,” says the entertainer. “They saw, ‘Oh, she’s a person, she loves music, she’s super emotional, she cares,’ [and] it made me more human to them.”

Adds the singer: “Being a part of Idol and that being a part of my legacy, being on one of the greatest television shows ever, all of it feels like such a blessing.”

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