On the heels of a disappointing ninth season, when American Idol debuts next January it will be a completely unrecognizable show—and not just because its star judge, Simon Cowell, will be gone.
Virtually the entire judges’ table will be rebooted in an effort to rejuvenate a show that, though still the most popular on television, has been losing steam. Rumored to be announced Monday, when Fox presents its upcoming television lineup to journalists in Beverly Hills at the semi-annual Television Critics Association Press Tour, is that pop star Jennifer Lopez will be the newest Idol judge. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Lopez’s deal is done, and the singer will be highly compensated, receiving more than $10 million for the season. That’s more than five times what longtime judge Paula Abdul was paid before she left after Season 8. (Abdul left the show because she felt undervalued and wanted more money.)
For Tyler, joining American Idol would be an ideal second act for a rock legend, who is closing in on 65.
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And yesterday it was announced that Ellen DeGeneres, who was brought on last season to replace Abdul, will not be returning. The news was no surprise—from the very beginning, it was clear to Idol producers that the TV talk-show host was not connecting with audiences, and that her lack of a music background made her seem out of place among fellow panelists Cowell, a veteran A&R executive; Randy Jackson, a music producer and the former bassist for the band Journey; and Kara DioGuardi, a songwriter with a résumé of hits.
Having four judges instead of the original panel of three has also drawn complaints (namely, that there is too much needless, repetitive chatter), particularly from Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of Idol with Ken Warwick before he was forced out at the end of Season 7. Since Lythgoe is reportedly returning to Idol next season, the approach to changing the judges’ lineup appears to be no holds barred.
The guessing game of who will replace Cowell, who announced in January that he would be stepping down to focus on his own British-import show The X Factor, has been going on for months, but reached a fever pitch when the Ellen news broke yesterday. On its heels came the report, on Gossip Cop, that an offer had been made to Lopez, who has appeared on Idol as a mentor. The post also said that an offer was also out to Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
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The Daily Beast has learned that Courtney Love’s name has also been mentioned, and a source told Peter Lauria that “she is seriously being considered and talks are going on.” But this person also said that the charismatic-but-volatile Love might ultimately prove “too unreliable to risk a show on.”
A Fox source reached late Thursday night said the network was not commenting on anything beyond the DeGeneres announcement. It is expected that on Monday network chiefs Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly could make an announcement about Lopez, but the same source said Friday afternoon “Fox has no plans to unveil the new panel of judges (or any new judge) on Monday. It's been widely reported that this was our master plan… but this is not happening so we don't want to let you all down if you were expecting to get hit with our big splash.”
The names being batted around are just the latest in a long list of potential Cowell successors. Howard Stern, Harry Connick, Jr., Bret Michaels, Elton John, and Justin Timberlake have all been mentioned—or in the case of Stern and Michaels, mentioned themselves, and often—as possibilities.
For Tyler, joining American Idol would be an ideal second act for a rock legend, who is closing in on 65. The exposure from the show would open up numerous commercial opportunities for the large-lipped, scarf-favoring dude who looks like a lady. Indeed, last year Aerosmith almost broke up after Tyler was quoted as saying that he was done with the band and wanted to focus on expanding “brand Tyler.”
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“He can’t tour forever,” says a source, noting that Tyler hasn’t been in good health lately, needing foot surgery last year after falling off the stage during one of his famous herky-jerky dance gyrations.
As for J-Lo, an Idol gig would similarly serve as career reboot. This year, Sony Music severed its relationship with the singer following several poor-performing albums and singles. Her movie career has also been spotty. Since Monster In Law came out in 2005, grossing $83 million, Lopez has not had a significant box-office hit.
Meanwhile, DioGuardi’s Idol future is not looking good. TMZ has reported that she, too, will be on her way out—DioGuardi, who joined the show in its eighth season, has been on a year-to-year contract.
That would leave Jackson, who has another year on his contract, as the only returning judge next season.
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Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.
Peter Lauria and Jacob Bernstein contributed to this report.