'American Idol' seems intent on assembling superstar judging panel

Yahoo Contributor Network

What is a network to do when one of its most revolutionary shows ambles into old age accompanied by sliding ratings, defecting cast members, and uncertainty at every turn? Apparently, the powers that be at Fox are intent on halting the slide, real or perceived, of the venerable "American Idol" at almost any cost. After the summer departures of judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, producers first lured Mariah Carey to the adjudicator's table and now appear to have set their sights on other big-name talents to accompany the singer next winter. Among the latest "Idol" targets, E! Online reports, are Sean "Diddy" Combs, Brad Paisley, and a host of other bigwigs from the music industry. At this point, nothing is certain for Season 12, but almost anything seems possible.

According to E!, "American Idol" has contacted as many as 20 musicians, most of them superstars, in their quest to fill a vacant judging slot. That seems like an awfully large shopping list until you consider that many of the names on Fox's wish list are considered long shots at best and that founding father Randy Jackson has not been fully secured for next year. Combs, for instance, is thought to have little interest in the gig, though his history with Carey might be a selling point if it's accompanied by a lot of zeroes on his contract offer. Jackson, meanwhile, might return as a judge or in another role, or he might simply follow Lopez and Tyler (and Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul) out the door.

Nigel Lythgoe insisted to E! that he and the rest of the head honchos at "American Idol" are not just name grabbing, but are instead trying to ensure optimal chemistry for whatever new judging panel they can put together. If that's true, then perhaps they should have tried a little harder to hang on to Lopez and Tyler, who helped "American Idol" re-invent itself after Cowell departed prior to Season 10. It was hard to imagine anyone replacing Simon's acerbic wit, but the combination of Lopez's firm, sympathetic critique and Tyler's over-the-top commentary made the show seem fresh again after a decade of the same formula.

Now it's back to the drawing board, and whatever plan producers can come up with might cost more than retaining the talent they already had in place. On the other hand, "American Idol" now has the chance to target an expanded audience by incorporating stronger ties to various musical genres. Paisley would give a natural tie to the country sector while Combs might draw some interest from hip-hop and R&B aficionados. Whatever the final composition of the judging panel, you can bet that it will be quite different than the one we saw during the last two seasons. You can also be pretty sure that more changes are in store for "American Idol" as it rounds the bend on a dozen seasons.

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