Like a deposed Soviet dictator, Simon Cowell’s exit has toppled the entire American Idol regime: Last night, Ellen DeGeneres released a statement saying that she would not be returning to the show, and this was followed swiftly by reports that Jennifer Lopez will take her place, that Kara DioGuardi has been axed in order to bring the panel down to three, and as-yet unconfirmed rumors that producers have extended an offer to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Only Randy Jackson seems to have survived the bloody celebrity coup d’état. Good looking out, dawg. So what happened here?
First up, DeGeneres’ announcement:
“A couple months ago, I let FOX and the AMERICAN IDOL producers know that this didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” said DeGeneres. “I told them I wouldn’t leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings. I loved the experience working on IDOL and I am very grateful for the year I had. I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s a fairly typical “it’s not you, it’s me” statement of pure diplomacy—although Deadline naturally spins it a little more negatively, rehashing stories of Ellen’s first day on the job, when Simon Cowell arrived 90 minutes late and she “stewed while she waited for him,” calling him a “prima donna.” That set the tone for a tense season where DeGeneres, in Deadline’s words, found that “it wasn't uncommon for the other judges to sneer at or ignore whatever DeGeneres said,” and she apparently made up her mind fairly quickly that she would be exiting as soon as her first year was up.
Producers then reportedly entered “serious conversations” with Jessica Simpson to replace her, but this week ended up going with Lopez instead, whose career could definitely use the boost—particularly in the wake of her being dumped by Sony Music, the scrapping of a planned album release in April, and the box-office bomb that was The Back-Up Plan. Perhaps sensing her inevitable career trajectory, Lopez has been inching toward reality TV for the last few years now anyway, beginning with MTV’s Dancelife in 2007 and a planned TLC show that never materialized, so her joining Idol seems like a logical move.
As for DioGuardi: Nobody likes her. TMZ says she’s been fired. Nobody is sad.
Finally, the rumors that Steven Tyler will fill that last remaining spot remain just that for now, with AI producers still holding out hope that Elton John will rescind on his vociferous denials and join the team anyway. Considering no one seems to be able to trace the source of said rumor—and that we’ve been through months of these sorts of names being bandied about, like Justin Timberlake, Chris Isaak, and Harry Connick Jr—Tyler’s not a sure thing just yet. And given that he was once quoted as saying he "refuses to watch shows like American Idol" and could "never endorse such methods" and that "he feels stars should work hard to reach the top—not get lucky on a television show," if those quotes are accurate it would obviously be a total philosophical reversal on his part. Tyler's camp has obviously yet to confirm or deny, but you can probably expect him to do so soon. We’ll update as this develops.