As Jennifer Lopez quits American Idol, turns out losing two judges (or three) might be a good thing
If you're thinking conventionally, this would be the worst time for American Idol to blow up its judges table.
Ratings were down this past season amid competition from upstarts such as NBC's The Voice. And even though alum Simon Cowell's The X Factor also airs on Fox, it's widely seen as a backup for the day when Idol falters.
But it's also true that the show's ratings went up in the 2011 season that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joined the show after months of speculation, only to see ratings go down this past season -- when viewers got used to them.
So news today that Lopez is joining Tyler in leaving Idol -- she told host Ryan Seacrest on his radio show today "I honestly feel the time has come that I have to get back to doing the other things that I do that I put on hold" -- may not be the calamity it seems.
As other critics have noted, Tyler looked bored on Idol this season and his bandmates in Aerosmith didn't seem to appreciate his participation. And even though Lopez talked a lot this year about feeling ambivalent on rejoining the show, she did the same thing in 2011 when it sounded like a negotiating tactic for an eventual $20-million payday.
Now they're both out, amid rumors the producers are hanging tough in negotiations on pay and longtime judge Randy Jackson hasn't committed to returning, either as a judge or possible as a mentor.
It's often tough to know what is happening at Idol because so many entities are involved in the show, including executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, production company 19 Entertainment, the Fox network and distributor FreemantleMedia.
And the judge's table is tricky territory. They need to be compelling and engaging to viewers without completely taking the focus from contestants. For example, when relations were strained among judges Ellen DeGeneres or Kara DioGuardi, that seemed to hurt the show's chemistry; NBC's The Voice also seems to suffer from having a judges panel more interesting than the contestants.
Why does all this matter? Because Idol remains the most popular non-sports show on television; one of the last TV shows a truly wide swath of people actually watch.
Amid speculation that Mariah Carey (who Jackson produces and manages) and Idol alum Adam Lambert might be contenders, here's my wish list of who might be good to join the judge's table.
Kelly Clarkson - As an Idol alum, she knows the show and she's proved during her time on ABC's underwhelming Duets that she's a good TV judge -- able to offer a tart opinion when needed without worrying whether it makes her look like a jerk (J. Lo, that's a reference to you). On these shows, a big name isn't enough; and Clarkson has proven she can hang.
Elton John - He's never going to do it, but he would be great. Experienced, opinionated, a career filled with triumphs and the freedom which comes from already being a world-class artist. The problem: john doesn't need the career boost and probably doesn't want to take the time, which includes several months taping auditions in the fall and four months of broadcasts in the spring.
Justin Timberlake - Another star who would probably (rightly!) see such a move as a step down and would never do it. Still, he'd also be perfect as Idol's version of The Voice/Maroon 5's Adam Levine. He's easy on the eyes, charming, smart and well aware of what it takes to move a track and a crowd. Plus, with Andy Samberg off Saturday Night Live, Timberlake will probably have more free time.
Will.i.am - The Black Eyed Peas frontman already serves as a judge on the British version of The Voice and has popped up as a mentor on Idol. the advantage is that he's a guy with recent hits; disadvantage is that he came across on Idol as pretty laid back.