January 19, 2015

Harry Connick, Jr. is wildly popular and equally timeless. He is talented, generous, respected and respectful, and I admire him. It gives me pause for thought, though, to consider what it is about Connick that gives him such staying power, makes him legendary in his craft, and places him as an enduring classic in today’s ever-evolving entertainment industry.

Recently, Connick was a guest on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and he spoke candidly about learning a tough lesson early on. He shared a story about studying at the age of 15 with the great American jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis (now 80). Marsalis asked Connick if he would sit in for him on the piano at a club in the French Quarter, providing Connick with an unreal opportunity to perform with the late R&B, funk, and jazz drummer James Black. Connick, admittedly a bit full of himself and eager to impress, attempted a difficult piece for the first selection of the evening. He quickly became lost… and in response, Black put down his sticks and walked out of the club.

That moment of immediate and unmistakably clear feedback is part of what helped him become the polished performer he is today. Connick correlates that experience to his role as a returning judge on American Idol XIV. Despite the “boos” and the criticism he receives for being perceived as tough on up-and-coming artists, Connick knows the importance of being honest with the contestants. He has just 30 seconds to deliver feedback and his comments need to be precise and direct in order to help the performers improve.

There is such value in good lessons learned as an impressionable novice. Connick experienced this and, in a pay-it-forward mindset, seems to be passing it along.  He is a mentor to the Idol contestants and his expertise is most beneficial to them when he is candid – both honest and respectful – about their performance.

Have you benefited from the candor of a mentor? And have you passed that opportunity on?