"Idol" Judges Talk Gay Jokes, Ellen's Music Smarts in New Interview

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When young singers hoping for their big break aren't covering Motown songs or plugging Coca-Cola on the stage of American Idol, the show's star personalities are usually squabbling over petty slights in an attempt to fill air time. A lot of these seemingly pointless disagreements came care of Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, but it seems new judge Ellen DeGeneres is game to carry on the tradition. "Simon really is mean to people sometimes," DeGeneres said in the next issue of Entertainment Weekly, out Friday. "If he's rude, I'm going to let him know he's rude."

When confronted with the criticism that too much of that banter is homophobic — for several seasons, Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest found it amusing to insinuate the other was gay — Cowell jumped to his own defense. "We are the least racist, homophobic show in the world," he argued. "What we do have, thank God, is a sense of humor. I hate political correctness. I wouldn't go into any show saying anything is off-limits." DeGeneres added she's obviously "sensitive" to homophobia, and acknowledged the issue came up in the wake of Adam Lambert's loss after last season's finale. "At the same time, the stuff that Simon and Ryan do — none of that has ever been offensive to me," she said. Still, the show has come under fire by GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for previous comments made about auditions and each other.

DeGeneres also addressed concerns that unlike her predecessor, she has absolutely no experience in the music industry. Likening her years of stand-up experience to singers' attempts to "reach that audience," she explained her extreme music fandom "accounts fr something." "I can put myself in their position," she said of the hopefuls. "It's not necessarily singing, but it's keeping an audience captivated."

American Idol returns to Fox next Tuesday, January 12th. DeGeneres' first episode starts Hollywood Week, which begins February 9th.