Ellen exit heralds major "American Idol" makeover

Fri Jul 30, 2010 8:36am EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "American Idol" appears on course for a wholesale make-over after the abrupt departure of Ellen DeGeneres left the aging singing contest with two holes to fill as it seeks to retain its crown as the most-watched show on U.S. television.

DeGeneres quit on Thursday after just a year of her five-year contract on the TV show, following the exit in May of abrasive British judge Simon Cowell to run his own show.

With no replacements announced, Fox executives meet TV journalists on Monday after a week of fevered rumors, and some denials, that singers Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Isaak and Steven Tyler may be among the contenders for the job of new "American Idol" judge.

Reports that Briton Nigel Lythgoe, one of the original executive producers, is returning, have sparked talk of a "nuclear option" for the show's 10th season, starting in January 2011.

That could entail throwing out remaining judges Randy Jackson and pop songwriter Kara DioGuardi, as well as major changes to the format, TV watchers say.

"I thought (with Simon's exit) that 'Idol' was in a unique position to really make some dramatic fixes to the show, and it looks now that maybe that's what they are going to do," said Brian Mansfield, who runs USA Today's Idol Chatter blog.

Fox has declined to confirm or deny any of the reports. "There has been a lot of speculation and we are not commenting on anything," a network spokesperson said.

Fox presents it 2010-11 new season line-up to TV critics on Monday but the network has until September to put a new panel in place in time for filmed auditions for next year's show.   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>