It’s been one of the worst kept secrets lately in Hollywood, but FOX has now officially announced the new judging panel (and mentor) for American Idol season 13. Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. will sit alongside the already announced Keith Urban at the judges table, with Randy Jackson replacing record executive Jimmy Iovine as the new in-house mentor. And of course, Ryan Seacrest will continue his duties as the best host that ever was or ever will be.

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Urban is the only returning judge from season 12, after Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Jackson all announced their departures back in May. But the other two are no strangers to Idol, with Lopez returning after a one-year absence following her two-season stint in 2011 and 2012, and Connick, Jr. having served as a guest mentor two times before, including just this year — and received rave reviews for his contribution and ability to work and connect with the contestants. It’s safe to say he’s the fan-favorite among this group.

Kevin Reilly, head of FOX Entertainment, said in a press release, “American Idol has always been about discovering the next singing superstar, and next season our judging panel will deliver a most impressive combination of talent, wisdom and personality to do just that.” He also said he’s “excited to have our friend Randy Jackson now in a new role as mentor.”

Viewers will no doubt take issue with that last comment, saying it’s exciting to have Jackson still on the show. As everyone has said countless times, he’s the guy who will survive the apocalypse — just when you think you’ve gotten rid of him, he keeps coming back time and again.

The season 13 “Dream Team,” as FOX is dubbing the group, released their own statements about the news. Connick, Jr. said, “I have always been a huge fan of American Idol and really enjoyed my time as a mentor on the show. And I am honored that they’ve asked me to be a judge this season. As an entertainer, I am truly excited to bring my perspective to American Idol, and to help emerging performers find their way.”

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The crooner/composer/actor only finalized his deal in the last few days, according to reports. Initially, was expected to fill the third spot, but a deal never materialized and he announced his return to The Voice UK. Then music producer Dr. Luke was the next to be put under consideration, and a contract was almost signed, but his record company stepped in to intervene since he’d be helping singers who would eventually sign to a competing label. Other names in the mix (who all declined offers) include Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun, Kanye West and Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Jackson said, “Surprise, surprise! I am so happy to be back as part of this amazing show that started it all. Season 1-3 is the place to be. The original talent show is back with a vengeance and ready to discover the best talent in America.” By saying Idol‘s “back with a vengeance,” it seems like he’s talking about the fact that NBC’s The Voice is now the one to watch among all the talent shows.

Urban said, “I think this season of Idol is gonna be a blast. New team, new energy and a whole new field of artists to be discovered and given a chance!” He’s probably breathing a sigh of relief that the new panel will be calmer next season and he won’t have to sit next to the Diva Drama Duo that was Carey and Minaj.

On Ryan Seacrest‘s radio show this morning, Jennifer Lopez put in her two-cents: “It was so hard for me to leave the first time … [but] to be honest, right now is the worst time for me to stop and do Idol! … I’m doing two movies and I have my album coming out, but I’m doing it because I want to. I love it! She went on to say that she’s not doing it for the money, and that Connick, Jr. is “a real joker and he’s really straightforward.”

Auditions for season 13 began Tuesday in Boston, and continue this fall in Atlanta, Austin, Detroit, Omaha, Salt Lake City and San Francisco.

What do you think of the new panel and in-house mentor? Excited that fan-favorite Harry Connick, Jr. is finally a judge? And what are your thoughts on Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson returning?

American Idol season 13 premieres in January 2014 on FOX.

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(Images courtesy of FOX)

Jeff Dodge

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jeff Dodge, a graduate of Western Washington University, has been a TV news editor for many years and has had the chance to interview multiple reality show stars, including Randy Jackson, Nick Cannon, Heidi Klum, Mel B and John Cena.