Harry Connick, Jr. should run for president.
Spend any time with Connick, as I did recently during a phone interview, and it becomes clear that Harry has what the country needs right now. He’s patriotic, with two family members who are in the military. A brilliant jazz musician, he is respectful and empathetic to African-Americans and other minorities without being patronizing. He’s a family man who also happens to be JFK handsome. Connick could be just the man to balance the demands of the left and the right with equanimity.
He certainly knows how to command an audience. Connick’s new show, Harry, which Fox syndicates around the country, might appear similar to other daytime talk and variety shows like Ellen or Oprah: Connick interviews celebrities, does a “toast toss” where he pitches pieces of bread into a toaster, and has a cracking band. But unlike other celebrity-helmed talk shows, he describes his as “a show for everyday folks,” and often has special themed episodes that focus on guests who are members of the military, for example.
“I’m a big fan of our troops,” says Connick. He continues,
Any chance I get to meet those folks I’m always humbled. To think that these people are dedicating their lives for us, to us, is really a humbling notion, so we wanted to do something special. When I walked out and saw all those impeccably dressed proud Americans out there, it makes your heart flutter. We had a guest on our show who was the first African-America fighter pilot. I’m always humbled by those folks. I have a very special place in my heart for members of the military.
Connick grew up in New Orleans. A jazz prodigy, he’s sold tens of millions of records, as well as appearing on Broadway and as a judge on American Idol. Unlike a lot of daytime talk shows, Harry features a fantastic live band. Connick says that he knows that a full ensemble is not typical, but he just couldn’t see it any other way: “I can’t do something unless it’s real to me.” At one point during our conversation I mentioned that I think his version of “The Christmas Waltz” is superior to Frank Sinatra’s, but that questioning Chairman Frank is blasphemy and so maybe he shouldn’t repeat that. Connick laughs. “Man, I won’t say a word. But thank you, that means a lot coming from a fan of the music.”
Connick is also outspoken about faith. New Orleans is a Catholic city, and Connick, a Catholic, says his faith is still important to him. “My faith means a lot. I grew up in a household that had a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, and I decided to be a Catholic, I was raised around Catholics and felt very comfortable in the church. It’s something that I think about, something that I pray to get better at, something that I have a lot to learn about.”
He’s also a family man. He lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his wife of more than 25 years, Jill, and their three children. “I genuinely want to know what she thinks,” he once told People magazine about his wife. “I married up!”
And he understands that being a celebrity means using one’s platform to give something back (not, like so many celebrities these days, to grandstand about one’s personal politics). Connick is proud of a segment he created for his show called, “I Got This.” In it, he appears at the home of a person who is feeling overwhelmed with work or stress and treats them to a spa day while he takes over their duties. “The idea of family and faith and community, those are all things that can be approached, I think, in different ways,” he says. “Some people preach about those things and do it quite well. I have more of a backdoor approach—I say let’s just do those things, and by having a national platform it might have the same kind of effect.” What that segment might prompt viewers to do, in other words, is look around and see if there is someone in their community whom they can also help, even with just small acts of kindness.
Authentic, intelligent, compassionate, funny, and even a little wise—Harry Connick, Jr. is just what our politically fractured country needs. And at a time when the country has elected a reality TV star as president, why not dare to dream: Connick 2020?