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Can 'American Idol' thrive without a mean judge?

January 19, 2011 |  2:52 pm

AI "American Idol" returns Wednesday night for the first time without Simon -- and lately, there seems to be some confusion about who this season's mean judge will be. First, Ryan Seacrest called Jennifer Lopez "the mean one." Then Randy Jackson claimed he actually was the mean one. Then Steven Tyler said ... well, he said, "J. Lo is a fox!" But maybe he forgot the question?

Anyway, all of this got us thinking: Will "American Idol" even have a mean judge this season? And does it need a mean judge to survive? Read the answer to that question in this feature about mean reality show judges here.

-- Melissa Maerz

Photo: "American Idol" judges Steven Tyler, left, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, and host Ryan Seacrest. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press