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'American Idol' needs two game changers now with Lopez, Tyler gone

With the news that American Idol judges Steven Tyler, left, and Jennifer Lopez are leaving, now might be the perfect time to shake up the show with some new faces.

Associated Press

With the news that American Idol judges Steven Tyler, left, and Jennifer Lopez are leaving, now might be the perfect time to shake up the show with some new faces.

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 an attempt to develop a backup for the day 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 after months of speculation. Their 2011 finale, for example, was 10 percent higher than 2009; this year's finale was the show's lowest-rated ever.

So news Friday that Lopez is joining Tyler in leaving Idol — she told host Ryan Seacrest on his radio show "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 as much as Lopez talked about feeling ambivalent on rejoining the show, she did the same thing in 2011 before signing a multi-million dollar extension.

Now they're both out, amid rumors longtime judge Randy Jackson hasn't yet committed to returning either — considering whether to come back as a judge or 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.

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 large swath of people actually watch.

Amid speculation that Mariah Carey (whom 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).

Elton John He's never going to do it, but he would be great. Experienced and opinionated, with a triumph-filled career and the freedom that comes from life as a world-class artist. The problem: John doesn't need the career boost, would be supremely annoyed by all the gossipy attention 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. 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 buddy 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: He's a guy with recent hits; the disadvantage is that he seems too laid back at a time when Idol needs a celebrity game changer.

'American Idol' needs two game changers now with Lopez, Tyler gone 07/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 13, 2012 6:16pm]
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