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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Ellen DeGeneres finally took her seat at the "American Idol" judging table, boosting audiences for the aging singing contest but dividing critics and fans in her nationwide audition on the most-watched TV show in the United States.
Some 27.7 million Americans tuned in for the debut of DeGeneres, according to early ratings data on Wednesday, up 12 percent from last week and the second biggest audience since the season premiere in January.
Tuesday's audience was also up four percent from last year at this stage of Fox television's five-month search for the next potential pop star, Fox said.
DeGeneres, who has her own popular daytime TV talk show, replaced Paula Abdul who quit last year in a contract dispute. One fan on the official AmericanIdol.com online forum commented on Wednesday. "Like Ellen, but not the same without Paula."
Fellow "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi told journalists on Wednesday she thought DeGeneres brought humor to the show and said viewers should give her a chance.
"The show viewers see is edited in a specific way... But I felt sitting next to her that she had a good handle on whether a contestant had potential, whether they had star quality," DioGuardi said in a conference call.
"I think Paula and Ellen are completely different and I think they both bring something valuable to the table. To judge on one show is very difficult to do. I think (Ellen) did an incredible job for her first time there," she said.
The success of DeGeneres, 52, is seen as key to "American Idol's" future given slipping ratings since 2006 and the upcoming departure in May of acid-tongued British judge Simon Cowell, arguably one of the show's biggest attractions.
MTV's Jim Cantiello on Wednesday said he had changed his initial negative opinion of the choice of DeGeneres, saying she bought the missing element of passion back to panel.
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak also had a change of heart, saying DeGeneres filled the Abdul chair with "a level of dignity and purpose that it had never before experienced."
But Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times said her debut "turned out a fizzle" and added; "Quietly bubbly and refreshing enough, DeGeneres said nothing of consequence."
As for previous media reports of friction between DeGeneres and Cowell, there was little evidence of it on Tuesday night in a show whose focus was firmly on weeding out the best contestants from the pack that got through nationwide auditions and made it to Hollywood.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte