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 accounts 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.
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 and whether Randy Jackson's judging job is secure.
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 on Saturday, according to People magazine.
And I wondered whether the 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.
"Doing this in a public fishbowl is very hard … closing deals with people in Hollywood is always hard," said Rice after the Fox news 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." He then asked the comic to hold off on making any permanent decisions until they could determine whether they might build an adequate panel without her.
The clock is ticking for Idol producers, who plan to bring singers culled from cattle-call auditions now under way before the judging panel in mid September.
"When you're working with the No. 1 television show in America, the scrutiny is enormous," Rice said. "(But) I'm not going to live in the fishbowl of a blow-by-blow account of casting the show …however much fun that might be for you or your readers."