Fox fights to avoid perceptions of chaos at American Idol as it refuses to confirm or deny J.Lo or Steven Tyler as new judges
LOS ANGELES -- Everyone from P. Diddy to Madonna’s brother has begged for a chance to join American Idol’s judges panel, in the wake of star judge Simon Cowell’s departure and last week’s announcement that comic Ellen DeGeneres was also leaving the show.
So why can’t Fox get three or four people to sit in the chairs, already?
Facing a roomful of journalists here Monday, Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice and entertainment president Kevin Reilly declined to answer any specific questions about who might judge TV’s highest-rated show next year, despite press account saying pop star Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler were all but signed to join the show.
“No one has signed a deal yet on either side on the camera to join American Idol next year who wasn’t on it last year,” said Rice. “It’s not particularly a fun announcement, it’s certainly not the choice I would have made, but it is the truth as I sit here today.”
Which means Rice batted away questions about whether former producer Nigel Lythgoe would rejoin the show for next season, whether judge Kara DioGuardi would be dropped from the show this season and whether Randy Jackson’s judging job is secure.
All this, while trying to fight the notion among journalists that a network which can’t name the major players on its highest-rated show eight months after Cowell officially announced he was leaving, must be mired in major chaos.
Journalists here had a tough time imagining Tyler as a viable candidate, mostly because his elder rocker image wouldn’t seem a good fit with advertisers or the show’s tween fans. Tyler, 62, reportedly said he was “probably” joining the show after a concert in Las Vegas Saturday, according to People magazine.
And I wondered whether the massive backlash over the possibility that Lopez might join the show – a Newsweek piece on the rumors was headlined “Is this the end of American Idol? – might have spooked a certain performer who likes to sing about expensive footwear into reconsidering the deal entirely.
“Doing this in a public fishbowl is very hard…closing deals with people in Hollywood is always hard,” said Rice after the Fox press conference. “Until they’re signed, they can always fall apart, and then there would be another great story about how a big deal fell apart.”
Rice told reporters that DeGeneres told him in June she planned to leave the show because it “wasn’t a good fit for her.” He then asked the comic to hold off on making any permanent decisions until they could determine whether they might build an adequate judge’s panel without her.
When they knew they could – Rice wouldn’t say how they knew this, since the deals, presumably aren’t signed – they gave her the OK to announce her departure.
“She had difficulty on the show because, ultimately she didn’t enjoy judging people, Rice said. “On a pure personality level, that wasn’t something that appealed to her on a weekly basis – having to see the kids on her show the following day, it didn’t feel like it best served her. I think it was a greater burden than she anticipated.”
The clock is ticking for Idol producers, who plan to bring singers culled from the big cattle call auditions now underway before the show’s judging panel in mid-September. It’s an open secret that the famous judges don’t appear at the big auditions – Rice said 16,000 people showed for Nashville auditions July 17 – where unknown producers pick the best and worst to film before the show’s stars weeks later.
What is also often overlooked is how much Fox depends on Idol for its success as a network. The show funneled huge audiences into current critical darling Glee, and has helped damped competition by crushing most shows scheduled against it on other networks. But competitors sense an opening, now that Idol producers seem to be waffling on a move which would redefine the show forever.
Rice also said the show might consider hiring guest judges for September's audition phase, and that every person they have talked to about joining the show has a music industry background.
“When you’re working with the number one television show in America, the scrutiny is enormous,” Rice told journalists. (But) I’m not going to live in the fishbowl of (narrating) a blow-by-blow account of casting the show….however much fun that might be for your or your readers.”