All eyes on Ellen in "American Idol" judge debut

Sun Feb 7, 2010 9:11am EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ellen DeGeneres makes her much-anticipated debut on "American Idol" on Tuesday, shaking up the dynamics on the show's judging panel and auditioning her own talents for the biggest TV audience in the United States.

The arrival of the popular talk show host and comic is expected to boost viewership on the Fox television network's aging singing contest, now in its 9th season and facing challenges to its coveted spot as the No. 1 show on U.S. TV.

The biggest question is, can Ellen get viewers to stay?

DeGeneres, 52, takes the seat held by Paula Abdul, who quit last summer in a contract renewal dispute, and "Idol" fans and TV critics remain passionately divided over her replacement.

"Ellen brings a huge fan base and people will be curious to see how she does. But if she performs poorly, that is bad for the show's long-term health," said Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak.

The pop culture phenomenon has ruled TV ratings for six years, commanding top dollar from advertisers and producing Grammy-winning stars like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson.

But audiences have slipped from a 2006 high of about 30.8 million per each twice-weekly episode. 2010 viewership is currently down three percent at an average 26.8 million compared to 2009's opening weeks, according to Fox.

The series also faces a challenge this year from rival network CBS's popular crime series "NCIS", and for the first time in years the music industry's Grammy Awards in late January drew a bigger TV audience than "Idol".   Continued...

<p>Host Ellen DeGeneres poses before the "Idol Gives Back" show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles April 25, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>