​Wild about Harry Connick Jr.


The Grammy-winning singer and "American Idol" judge is helping to preserve the musical heritage of his hometown, New Orleans

CBS News.

"It Had To Be You" is a song Harry Connick Jr. made his own in the 1989 film, "When Harry Met Sally." From movies to recordings to live concerts, music lovers are just wild about Harry -- and nowhere more so than in his hometown of New Orleans. That's where Michelle Miller spoke with him ... FOR THE RECORD:

Taking a walk through the Big Easy with native son Harry Connick Jr is anything but "easy."

To some, he's the musician who has won three Grammys and sold more than 28 million records. Others want to shake hands with the movie star, with roles in almost 20 films, not to mention prime time television shows like "Will & Grace."

And two years ago he was introduced to a new generation when he became a judge on "American Idol."

Heading into the popular show's final season, it's clear fellow superstar judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and host Ryan Seacrest are wild about Harry.

"I think he's a generous guy," said Seacrest. "I think he's got a big heart. I mean, obviously he's extremely talented. But just as a human being, he's one of the most generous people that I've had a chance to get to know."

"I want you to go out and buy yourself something nice," said Connick, stuffing a bill in Seacrest's pocket.

"Dude, that's not enough," Seacrest protested. "But he's a rare individual, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes. Oh, gosh, yeah," Urban laughed.

Connick is always happy to play the class clown. But for all the fun he's having on "American Idol," his job as judge is no laughing matter.

"Everyone on this show has a purpose," he said, "and my purpose and my function is to judge. If you do something that I don't think is great, I'm gonna say, 'I don't think that's very good, and here's why.'"

Believe it or not, being a judge on a music show seems to be written in Connick's DNA. His late mother, Anita, really was a judge in New Orleans City Court, where his father, Harry Sr., was a district attorney.

And his parents also had a passion for music, once owning a record store.

By age four, Harry Jr., showed signs of being a prodigy. Soon he was impersonating his heroes like Louis Armstrong, and studying under jazz master Ellis Marsalis.

Miller said, "You're known as the tough guy up here."

"People wanna know what tough is, they need to go back and spend a few hours with Ellis Marsalis in that classroom," Connick replied. "That was tough tough. Where you would go home and cry because they would say, 'Maybe you should think about another occupation. Maybe music's not for you,' kinda thing. That's tough. This is baby food!"

Talk about tough -- tough is sharing the piano with jazz great Sweet Emma Barrett, at the Famous Preservation Hall.

"I would go up and play with her," Connick recalled, "and she had one arm that was using about 90 percent of the keys and she would give me the top, I couldn't do anything!. "

At eight years old, he said, he couldn't ask her "'Hey, Sweet Emma, give me some more keys,' and she would eat those Sucrets, you know, those throat lozenges? And she would throw the wrappers at me when I was playin'. She was tough!"

He kept at it, though -- playing gigs, recording, and in 1990 he attracted the attention of Charles Kuralt, who told "Sunday Morning" audiences 25 years ago, "You may not have heard of the name, but you soon will."

We first caught Connick when our own jazz great, the late Billy Taylor, was there to catch this rising star.

"When it actually started to happen and the specifics of, like, Billy Taylor talkin' to me, that's mind blowing!" he said.

The 22-year-old had his breakout album with the "When Harry Met Sally" soundtrack.

"This is coming from a guy who had a record out before 'When Harry Met Sally,' used to go into the record store and ask the person, 'Hey, you have the new Harry Connick, Jr. CD,' hoping that they would say, 'Wait a minute ...!' -- which they never did!"

And he's been doing it all, from standards to swing, and of course those Christmas albums, writing songs, lyrics and arrangements to fill more than 30 albums.

But his new album, is a bit off-tempo for the singer who is usually 100% in charge. On "That Would Be Me," Connick collaborated with two outside producers, letting them call the musical shots.

What was it like? "It was amazing," he said. "I mean, I knew it was going to be uncomfortable and it was going to be intimidating. It was going to be frightening and humiliating and all of those things."