"There's definitely a sense of pride for me in Nashville," he told PEOPLE Country as nervous contestants were shepherded into the cavernous Music City Center. "I want everyone here to walk in and kill these guys. I want Nashville to bring it."
"Being in a music center like Nashville sets the bar high," Lopez said, pointing toward the Country Music Hall of Fame across the street. "The people on the building there – Dolly, Elvis, Taylor, Miranda Lambert – they're huge stars."
Unfortunately, most of the nearly 100 survivors of last week's open call (and the subsequent screening by the show's executive producers) didn't exactly set the stage on fire on day one of the judges' auditions.
"Good, not great," pronounced Connick. "What you really want at the end of the day is to go back to the hotel, and say to each other, 'You know what, that kid, the one with the purple hair, that kid was amazing.' You want to get excited."
Michael Becker / FOX
"It's great to get together with the other people on the show," said Connick. "We don't see each other much away from it so Monday was like a reunion, catching up with each other, hanging out. I'm looking forward to getting to the round in my hometown. If we had time, I'd take them to my dad's house for a crawfish boil. It's all about the food in New Orleans!"
American Idol returns to FOX in January 2015.