What exactly is Keith Urban, one of this year's new American Idol judges, looking for when wannabe pop stars perform for him?Is it all about the voice, as a certain other popular TV talent show maintains?Or is the Grammy-winning country artist looking for an emerging talent who's "the total package"?Urban says there's no precise formula. He just knows brilliance when he sees and hears it."The reality is, if it were only about the voice, the chairs [on The Voice] would never spin around," he says. "There is a certain point when the rest of it comes into play. It just does."The voice is very important, obviously, because that's the vehicle being used to carry the art and the expression and the creativity. Adele famously said, 'I make music for the ears, not the eyes.' And there is a lot to be said just for an extraordinary voice."But there isn't really one rule across the board. It's got to be the right combination for each person. Someone who might have a lesser voice might have an extraordinary charisma and presence and way about them that's just magnetic."Urban and his fellow judges -- Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson -- have their work cut out for them in the weeks to come. There's still a lot of talent to sift through.This week, in two-hour episodes at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on Fox, they'll send another 10 hopefuls home to winnow the field down to 20.We chatted with Urban last week about his gig at the judges' table.Can you single out a front-runner yet?It's too soon to tell. Only because it's extraordinary what can happen from week to week. I've watched people emerge unexpectedly, people singing and you think, "Gosh, where did that come from?" And it can go the other way too, where somebody has a lot of expectations and then, "Hmm, didn't quite get there tonight." So I think it's far too soon to get any front-runner ideas.But I will say that the audience reaction to Angela Miller and a couple of other girls was pretty obvious. I think the original song of Angela's [ You Set Me Free] that's been floating around the Internet has really resonated with a lot of people.The girls do seem to be a strong group. Do you think this could be the year, after five consecutive male champs, that a woman will win?I think you're right. It's absolutely a girl's year to win, in my opinion. That's not to say that the guys aren't strong. It's really more a testament to how strong the girls are this year. But I want the emergence of great artistry. Male, female, it doesn't really matter.Should other contestants consider following Angela's lead and performing their own original songs? Could they benefit from doing that?If you've got something that you feel confident with. Certainly in Angela's case, she rightly had the confidence in a song like that. Her performance was superb. Not that writing is a prerequisite. There are a great number of artists, from Frank Sinatra on down, who never write songs.You've emerged as a nice-guy judge. How would you describe your critiquing philosophy?If there's something that's just soul-crushing and not helpful to them, I just can't see any worth in it. I'm trying to give specific direction, if there's something they can work on. But it's just my opinion. They can take it, they can leave it. But I try to deliver it in a language that I like people to deliver it to me.What do you think when a contestant sings one of your songs, as Janelle Arthur did when she auditioned in Charlotte, N.C.?I love the fact that she did that. At the same time, I think it's an extraordinarily bold thing to sing one of our songs, particularly a Mariah Carey song. I'm always amazed that someone will come on and sing a Mariah Carey song in front of Mariah Carey. But it's a huge honor. And I think there are a few more of my songs popping up apparently coming down the tracks.How are you getting along with the other judges?I've always found I have this immediate connection with singers and musicians in general, because I'm so used to playing in bands. I've played in bands where guest artists come up and sing.So for me, when I joined this panel, I felt like I just joined another band: I'm on guitar, Randy's on bass, we've got two chick singers and this is our band. That's what it feels like to me.
7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday