These ... are your 'American Idol' judges [Updated]
This ... is "American Idol, 2.0."
After almost two months of dodging questions from the media, Fox officially announced Wednesday who will replace Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi at the judges' table in the show's 10th season.
Who will sit next to Randy Jackson? Well, not even Ryan Seacrest could turn this into a compelling "dim the lights" moment. In a grand press conference at The Forum in Inglewood, where the last round of cattle call auditions were being held, Seacrest announced what has been speculated behind the scenes for weeks: Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler are the show's new judges.
About 3000 Idol hopefuls are at the Forum to audition and hear the news from Seacrest himself. Randy Jackson told the crowd: "I'm calling 'Idol' season 10 the remix, baby!"
Tyler said he wanted to be a "part of something bigger" than himself. "I wanna bring some rock to this roller coaster."
Lopez said she was very excited "to work with you and watch you grow." In a press release, Peter Rice, chairman of Entertainment for Fox Networks Group, said, "We're incredibly excited to have Jennifer join the Fox family. From the worlds of dance and music to television, films and fashion, she is a global superstar with iconic and captivating style, along with impressive insight on how to reach and move audiences worldwide."
[Updated 10:23 a.m.: Quotes from Jackson, Tyler, Lopez and Rice have been added.]
The return to a panel of three and the hiring of two new faces amounts to a sweeping overhaul of the No. 1 show on TV, with an impact that is impossible to predict. "Idol" producers have tightly controlled the show's image over the years, but the program was tossed into disarray following the recent exits of Cowell, DeGeneres and DioGuardi.
Cowell announced his plans to leave "Idol" before the ninth season began. But DeGeneres, apparently taking her cues from the public's response, resigned this summer. DeGeneres had been hired to replace Paula Abdul, who left the show unexpectedly a year ago over a contract dispute. Fox opted not to re-sign DioGuardi, who joined the singing competition two years ago. Ratings erosion this past season also highlighted the perception that the show was losing its once-fast grip on viewers.
The makeover is, at least in part, the brainchild of Nigel Lythgoe, best-known as a judge and executive producer on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance." Lythgoe, who resigned as "Idol's" executive producer in 2008 over clashes with Cowell, returned to the same job in August. The British-born dancer-turned-producer has been open with his criticism of "Idol" since he left, and this past season went so far as to say that if he were running the show, he'd start over with new judges after Cowell left.
Well, Cowell's gone, Lythgoe's back, and only Jackson is left standing. In an interview with "Variety" when he signed his new deal last month, Lythgoe said that everyone had "lost sight of the fact that the most important people on the show are the young artists. It revolved around Kara coming in to make four judges, which often left no time for them to talk. Then it was about Paula leaving, and then about Ellen joining.... Where did Ne-Yo or Chris Brown come from? Where did Justin Bieber come from? Where are these kids?" Lythgoe asked. "That has got to be the priority, more than anything. More than the judges' panel. The judges are there for two minutes; the contestants are there through the entire program."
Fox executives have been highly secretive about why it took more than two months to lock in Tyler and Lopez. How well Lopez and Tyler will fill those roles now remains to be seen. Both are former chart-toppers who have seen their careers cool in recent years. Lopez, who has served as an "Idol" mentor, has sold 25 million records worldwide but was dumped by Sony Music Group following lagging sales this year. Tyler, longtime frontman for the rock group Aerosmith, has tangled publicly with members of his band, who haven't seen an original album go platinum in nearly a decade.
The new judges will have their work cut out for them. Although ratings slipped this past season, tens of thousands of hopefuls have turned out for the auditions.
-- Maria Elena Fernandez and Scott Collins
Photos: Top, Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Credit: Getty Images. Bottom, auditions on Aug. 19 in San Francisco. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox