Is Ellen DeGeneres really the best pick for American Idol's fourth judge?
She's more popular, famous and funny than Abdul -- a sign to the industry that the show is stepping up its game at a crucial moment. Best of all, she is one of the few stars entering Idol's orbit who clearly doesn't need the gig -- helming a successful talk show which she will continue to work on while appearing on Fox's show.
There's just one problem, from my perspective: She doesn't have anything to do with the music industry.
I know; I'm the last person connected to the entertainment industry who thinks American Idol is still a singing contest. But that is what the program purports to be, and until now, every permanent judge who appeared on the show was someone with relatively serious credits as a songwriter, producer, performer and/or record company executive.
In the end, that distinction may not matter much. DeGeneres is far more lucid and dependable than Abdul on her sharpest days, with a down to earth sense of morality that makes her seem like a genuinely admirable and sensitive person. She's guest judged on Fox's other variety hit, So You Think You Can Dance, and is bound to improve the chemistry on Idol's increasingly tangled judge's array.
And at a time when the show has faced increasing questions about whether gay contestants can compete, she's an important gay icon lending a serious stamp of approval.
Showbiz heresy, I know. (read a passionate essay here about why DeGeneres is perfect) Bottom line, DeGeneres is going to be more entertaining and reliable than the woman she's replacing. And since she's not participating in the judging which selects the contestants for Hollywood Week, she can't even be blamed for the crop of singers who competes in January.
Personally, I'm just happy this will end all the speculation about Abdul eventually returning to the show.
But if American Idol wants to start picking actual Idols again -- instead of watching fourth-place contestants like Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson blaze brighter careers than the people who actually win their contest -- then producers better hope DeGeneres' layman's touch translates into better winners.
Because isn't that what all this stuff is really supposed to be about?
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, click below to read DeGeneres' announcement on the new job, delivered to her talk show audience during the episode that will air Thursday.
"I have a big announcement to make. No one knows this. I just finally got the OK ... just moments ago to announce this to you today. ... I am going to be the new judge on 'American Idol.' (crowd applauds)
Thank you so much. I'm not leaving here. Don't worry about that. I'm going to have a day job and a night job. The times we're living ... in, we're all doing that. This is so exciting for me. We've been dealing with this for the last couple of weeks and I've been dying to tell everyone. It's just been so hard to keep it a secret and we just finally got the OK and I'm so excited. It is going to be so much fun.
I don't know how it happened myself, but I have not missed one episode of that show. I've watched every single thing. I love everything about it and I love music, as you know. Hopefully, I'm the people's point of view, because I'm just like you. I sit at home and I watch it and I don't have that technical [eye]. ... I'm not looking at it in a critical way from the producer's mind. I'm looking at it as a person who is going to buy the music and is going to relate to that person. So I'm hopefully going to be that voice of what we're all doing at home."