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Harry Connick Jr. says his faith, values and career are ‘entwined’

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Harry Connick Jr. speaks onstage during a panel discussion about his new daytime talk show “Harry,” which premiered last fall. (NBC Universal, Inc.)

There are few people in show business who have carved as unique a path on the pop culture landscape over the last 30 years as Harry Connick Jr., who has attained great success as a singer, songwriter, actor, pianist and “American Idol” judge. Yet his devout Catholic faith has also guided him through a 22-year marriage to former model Jill Goodacre and as a father to daughters Georgia Tatom, Sara Kate and Charlotte.

His latest venture is his most eclectic and ambitious yet, as the host of the daytime talk show “Harry,” which debuted last fall to great reviews. The show stands out from the pack of TV talk shows because Connick doesn’t just interview celebrities and he steers clear of negativity. He also serves as the musical director of his nine-piece jazz band (singing occasionally) and shines a spotlight on community heroes from across America, while also learning how to do unique skills, like lumberjacking.

Connick took time from his extremely busy schedule to talk with Angelus News about his hectic career, and how his faith helps him keep it all on track.

“My faith does influence my decisions, because the decisions I make and my faith and values are entwined,” said Connick, speaking by phone from the show’s base in New York City. “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, and faith is an extra big part of my life, which we like to show on the show rather than talk about.”

Indeed, New Orleans-native Connick makes a point of the fact that he tries to emphasize values of faith, family and community on the show, through the spirit of the atmosphere he creates and the regular Americans he frequently features as guests. The show steers refreshingly clear of politics and social issues because Connick believes that the best thing he can do for his audience is “give people a respite from their day and some entertainment.”

In fact, Connick finds that he doesn’t have to struggle with issues of morality on his show, because his faith is such an inherent part of his life that he has a clear idea of where taste lines should be drawn and avoids crossing them.

“We try to find people on the show or do things on the show that are examples of the highest things we can do — leaders in their community, inspirations in what they do, shining examples of what craft and hard work can do,” explained Connick. “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.”

The opportunity to do “Harry” came about for Connick, 49, after he had made 21 popular appearances on the now-defunct “The Late Show with David Letterman” over the years, and had impressed Letterman’s former executive producers, the writing brother team Justin and Eric Spangle. The idea was to go beyond creating a daytime talk show to having one that combined all of Connick’s talents and was “a party in the middle of the afternoon.”

The concept sold almost immediately to Fox, and launched last September on the network’s affiliates 17 biggest TV markets (including 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on Fox 11 LA, and midnights on MyTV13), in addition to syndicated local stations in the rest of the nation. Connick feels that the difference in his show lies in the music, because his band plays all through the show each day, but he feels the most pride in the show’s sense of spontaneity. 

“This is the only show I’ve ever been involved with that was truly unscripted from beginning to end,” said Connick. “It’s my job to know about who’s on the show, but in terms of scripting the show, we don’t really do that. That’s always how I’ve done things in other arenas, and it seems to have transferred well to this one too.”

It’s a challenge for Connick to pick his favorite episode out of the nearly 120 so far, since he finds it to be such fun on a daily basis. He loves talking to regular people about their amazing life moments the best, and takes pride in a regular segment called Leading Ladies, “where we’ve had so many incredible women come on of such great accomplishment and deserve recognition in my opinion.”

Connick’s other favorite aspect of the shows lies in the moments where he walks into the audience and mixes it up with attendees on the fly, which he likens to a “tightrope experience.” He insists on learning the unusual skills that are a frequent part of the show, such as the aforementioned lumberjacking, “on the spot.”

“If someone wants to show me how to be a lumberjack and saw pieces of wood, I want to experience it with the audience,” said Connick. “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.”

In the end, Connick is reflective about the impact that faith has had on his life outside the show as well, helping him navigate the treacherous waters of celebrity and stardom while keeping his personal life stable. At the same time, he keeps his focus on his own personal faith journey, and doesn’t try to cast judgment on the wilder ways of others in show business.

“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,” said Connick. “I wake up every day and try to be the best husband, father and entertainer I can be. I’m no different offstage 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. All I can do is keep striving to be better.”

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