American Idol recruited fill-in judges like Mary J. Blige and Victoria Beckham while searching for a full-time replacement for Paula Abdul, but late yesterday the top-rated show revealed who would be joining the judges table when the series' ninth season premieres in January 2010: Comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen made the surprising announcement on her talk show, saying that talks with AI producers had been ongoing for the past few weeks and the deal was finally worked out just before filming yesterday's The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
"I'm thrilled to be the new judge on American Idol," said DeGeneres said in a statement that confirmed her new gig. "I've watched since the beginning, and I've always been a huge fan. So getting this job is a dream come true, and think of all the money I'll save from not having to text in my vote." Added AI creator and executive producer Simon Fuller, "Ellen has been a fan of the show for many years, and her love of music and understanding of the American public will bring a unique human touch to our judging panel. I can't wait for this next season to begin." DeGeneres got her first taste of judging during a one-episode stint on last season's So You Think You Can Dance.
Critics will likely lash out at DeGeneres' lack of music industry knowledge — she's an avowed music fanatic, but doesn't have the choreography background or recording experience that Abdul brought to the show. However, in casting DeGeneres, Idol has found another kind-hearted, nurturing personality. Plus, DeGeneres brings an accessible sense of humor to the show that's different than the brand of comedy Abdul provided, which came most often at her expense. Fourth judge Kara DioGuardi isn't a performer, but as an accomplished songwriter, she'll likely step up as the pop music vet.
In addition to welcoming DeGeneres to the judge's table, Idol also revealed the full roster of stars who will guest judge during the show's auditions: Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Kristin Chenoweth, Joe Jonas, Neil Patrick Harris, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Shania Twain. DeGeneres won't join Cowell, Jackson and DioGuardi until the post-audition episodes of the show.
DeGeneres' addition to the show also puts a final end to Paula Abdul's tenure on American Idol. After Abdul revealed she was leaving the show, reports still circulated that she wanted to return to Idol was using her departure to leverage for a bigger paycheck more on par with her co-stars. Whether Abdul was still negotiating with Idol producers is unclear, but in the end, the Age of Abdul on Idol is over, and the Ellen Era has begun.
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