Fox Near Deal to Extend "American Idol" Amid Rumors of Cowell's Exit

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Despite rumors that this might be Simon Cowell's last season judging on American Idol, Fox is nearing a deal with the show's 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia to ensure the reality competition show that has spawned stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert remains on the air after its current contract runs out in 2011. According to The Hollywood Reporter, American Idol's run on Fox could be extended by three seasons or more.

Look back at AI's biggest winners and losers.

However, the news of a renewed AI comes just days after rumors of Cowell's inevitable defection from the show returned. Tony Cowell, Simon's brother, may have spilled the beans on his weekly podcast, saying that Simon will leave AI at the end of 2010 to focus on the planned 2011 premiere season of the American version of The X Factor, a U.K. Idol-like competition show that discovered Leona Lewis. As Rolling Stone previously reported, Cowell was close to re-upping on a new contract that could pay the judge roughly $50 million a season, plus pave the way for The X Factor's invasion of America. Under the terms of that deal, Cowell would remain an AI judge until 2012.

If the rumors prove true and Cowell trades in his seat at the American Idol judges table for a chair on The X Factor, it'll be both good and bad news for Fox: While Idol will undoubtedly take a ratings hit with Cowell's departure, the sardonic Brit's involvement on X Factor — which will also air on Fox — would guarantee a built-in audience for the new show. It's also conceivable that Cowell could do double duty, just like new judge Ellen DeGeneres, who will balance her daytime talk show duties with her side job as an Idol judge.

There's been a lot of movement at the judges table since Kris Allen pulled an upset over Adam Lambert on the season finale of American Idol's Season Eight: As Rolling Stone previously reported, Paula Abdul opted to leave AI after being unable to come to terms on a new contract. AI responded by filling her vacant seat with DeGeneres. Fourth judge Kara DioGuardi signed a deal to stay with the program. If Cowell were to leave, Randy Jackson would be the lone remaining judge from the series' Season One.

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