The fighting last season between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj turned a lot of fans away, but Connick and Seacrest tell PEOPLE the show is "back on track"

By K.c. Blumm and Lorina Lana
Updated December 15, 2013 08:45 AM
Credit: Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP

Mariah Carey said working on the past season of American Idol was “hell” as she bickered with fellow judge Nicki Minaj. But host Ryan Seacrest tells PEOPLE that the new season of the reality show, which returns to Fox on Jan. 15, is drama free.

That comes courtesy of the chemistry between returning favorites Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez and new judge Harry Connick Jr.

“The judges are so fun and they are having such a good time. They are getting along so well that I think you will see your old American Idol back on the air,” Seacrest told PEOPLE at Z100’s Jingle Ball in New York City on Friday.

Connick, who previously mentored contestants on the show, ruffled a few feathers himself last season when he was a little hard on Amber Holcomb and eventual winner Candice Glover. But he tells PEOPLE that viewers shouldn’t expect to see him follow in King of Mean Simon Cowell‘s footsteps.

“I am nothing like Simon,” he says. “I think he is fantastic but we do not have a lot in common.”

Connick, 46, admits he’s slipped comfortably into the judge’s chair because he’s so familiar with the show.

“I watch it every year,” he says. “It feels very normal to be there, so it feels like it should feel.”

As a viewer, he admits that last season wasn’t the show’s finest. “It was a little bit off, but this year it’s going to get back on track but it’s got to be about the contestants. We are all concerned about finding the best contestant.”

And in order to do that, Connick says he and his fellow judges need to give the singers who are auditioning constructive feedback.

“You have to be specific. You can’t tell people ‘I didn’t like it.’ You have to tell them why,” he says. “It s hard to do that if you don’t have a lot of background in actually playing an instrument and performing, and that is what I do, so it’s very easy for me to pull from personal experience [and explain] why people aren’t doing as well as they could and help them get to the next level, because they are young.”

“Jen and Keith are incredibly well-qualified to be sitting up there,” he continues. “They are superstars and incredible talents, so hopefully the three of us will provide something fresh and exciting.”