Ellen DeGeneres as the fourth judge: Is this the end of 'American Idol' as we know it?

ellen-degeneres_lChalk me up as one of those people who greeted the news that Ellen DeGeneres is joining the judging panel for season 9 of American Idol with the sudden urge to drive a fork into my thigh and wake up from a strange and horrible nightmare. (Side note: We all do dream about Idol on a regular basis, right? Right.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I adore Ellen DeGeneres. As a comedian, that is. I’ve seen her live in concert twice. I watched every episode of The Ellen Show (her short-lived 2001 series with Cloris Leachman, not to be confused with the groundbreaking sitcom Ellen, which I also loved). Heck, I’d even tune in to something as hein as the People’s Choice Awards if they brought her in as host. But as a permanent replacement for Paula Abdul as the fourth judge on my very most favorite television show? Can I get a “hell to the no” up in here?

If you caught Ellen sitting in as a guest panelist a couple months ago on So You Think You Can Dance, then you probably understand my dismay. Ellen treated the gig like an extended (and extremely strained) standup routine, essentially making the focus all about herself while failing to provide even an Abdullian level of critical feedback. By ignoring her dismal, one-episode track record as a reality-show judge, Idol‘s producers once again expose three deadly blind spots that continue to put at risk the short- and long-term health of television’s top-rated show.

1) American Idol is, always has been, and always will be about the contestants. The day the show stops churning out future Carrie Underwoods, Fantasia Barrinos, and Chris Daughtrys — performers who’ve reached superstar status in concert, on Broadway, and on radio — then it simply becomes another cog in the low-stakes reality-television wheel. So why have a fourth judge at all? Why take away precious screen time from the true stars of the show? I don’t know about you guys, but I’d have traded a thousand of Randy’s “for me, for yous” last season for just a few more seconds of singing from Kris, Adam, and Allison. Those kids — the ones who you’d never heard of in January, but whose music you can’t wait to buy in November — are the only A-list talents Idol should be worried about pimping.

2) Until (or unless) Ellen drops the “nice gal” persona, then she will not be representing the “people’s point of view,” which is how she described her Idol role while taping an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show that will air today. People love Simon Cowell not for his taste in Hanes v-neck undershirts, but because he often has the courage to express on national television the exact — and not always polite — thoughts they’re having on their couches at home. Simon Cowell is the voice of the people. And my deepest fear is that in her new role, Ellen DeGeneres will be the voice of a beloved talk-show host and comedian who’s too concerned about damaging her public image to provide the kind of niceties-free feedback that the audience — and yes, the contestants themselves — need and deserve.

3) Credibility counts — or at least it ought to — when it comes to the judges panel. Which isn’t to say that Randy or Paula (or at this point Kara) necessarily represented a dream team of stimulating, high-minded feedback. Nor is it to say that an Idol judge needs to bandy about terms like legato or crescendo or “package artist” to do his or her job well. But look at the panel on Project Runway, for example. Even when I vehemently disagree with Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, and Heidi Klum, I never stop respecting them, nor do I find myself questioning their credentials, or their ability to spot a shoddy seam or bunky tailoring or an insane crotch. Is it possible Ellen has the ability to separate the Ramiele Malubays from the David Cooks, the Jorge Nuñezes from the Kris Allens? I sure hope so. But based on her SYTYCD performance, I can’t shake the deep fear that American Idol is adding creampuff to the menu when we really need some bitter lemon.

Of course, only time will tell how (and how much) Ellen’s presence on the panel will affect Idol. At the very least, I’m hoping that Simon and Ryan will once and for all ditch their regularly scheduled homophobic banter now that they’ve got a (powerful) lesbian colleague in their presence. And even if Ellen’s Idol tenure yields little more than corny punch lines — “Are you two carpenters? ‘Cause you nailed it!” she blathered during her SYTYCD run — perhaps it’ll awaken a dormant-yet-skilled critic deep inside Randy or Kara. Hey, maybe that’s crazily optimistic, but the alternative — that my very most favorite television show is standing at the edge of a gasoline lake with lit matches beneath its toenails — is simply too much for me to contemplate.

What do you think of Idol‘s decision to add Ellen DeGeneres to its panel? Take the poll and share your thoughts in the comments section below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak for all my Idol updates.


Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss/WireImage.com

Comments (742 total) Add your comment
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  • Melissa

    its a total joke and idol has officially jumped the shark. and i like ellen but as a judge? no way! Game Over for American Idol. im more interested in paulas next move I believe she still has a lot of amazing TV in her!

    • Horace

      I think Slezak’s analysis of this situation is dead on. I love Ellen … but adding her to the panel just makes it even more about the judges, when it should be ALL ABOUT the singers.

      • Jess

        I agree, I thought the same thing as what he wrote. I love Ellen but her SYTYCD stint was terrible and I feel like Idol will be more of the same.

      • Gemini

        I could not agree more with Slezak’s take on the whole Ellen debacle. I love Ellen, but if her appearance on SYTYCD is any indication of how she will be on AI, she will only add misery to the already flailing judges panel.

    • leo

      If we love and respect Idolatry written by ‘our own’ Slezak who does not have a musical background, we have to give a chance to the person who’se watched EVERY AI SHOW since season 1 and who cares deeply about the contestants. She’ll have good insight but will temper it with tact and kindness, and won’t be afraid to cross Simon when she feels he’s gone too far. She’s done it on her show and would definitely do so in the heat of the moment. SYTYCD was different, she was brought in for comic relief but even then she scolded the head honcho Nigel Lythgoe when he discussed Evan’s eyes in a negative way. She has the contestants back just like Paula did. I think its a brilliant move.

      • Em

        I think Ellen was way bad for the first half of the show, but she did seem to realize her track was inappropriate, and I thought she turned it around by the end. I think she’s a quick study, and I think she’ll do well.

        But WHY don’t they get rid of Kara??? WHY? I have not yet heard anyone from the show acknowledge the audience’s aversion to her. Anyone seen anything?

      • Shana

        she said she watched EVERY EPISODE of sytycd too and look at how she was on that show for ONE NIGHT! This is a whole 5 years…

    • JG

      Mel – you stole my line you stole my line. Definitely jumped the shark, but it started with Kara, this is just the landing. BTW, loved Paula on here, but let’s be serious, do we care what she does next. Unless it’s DWTS, she should be on Idol.

    • SadButTrue

      Feels like an episode of “PUNKED”

    • Not Ellen

      I agree its a total joke and Idol has officially jumped the shark. and I like ellen but as a judge? No way! Game Over for American Idol. I can’t take AI seriously any more, what a terrible diservice they have done to the truly talented winners of that show like Kelly Clarkson and David Cook.

      • reinharv

        I think that Ellen may at first provide “comic” relief but I hope she doesn’t make it a mini stand-up commedy act. After last season, when David Cook won, who I think spoiled it for everyone else from now on, I found the judging was terrible and the talent questionable for the most part this season. It was all about the judges & who they pimped. They are desperate to keep viewers & because Ellen is so popular, they are hoping her fans will tune in to see her judge & get hooked. I don’t see any sane reason to have 4 judges. A.I. should have ditched Kara.

    • travelmonkee

      I agree with you, it’s a joke with a capital K, she’s not a singer, is she? Ellen is a comedian she should stick to her day job

  • indy

    I guess they need a professional comic to judge the slew of comic contestants they will continue putting through to the next round ala Norman Gentle.

  • Vada

    You put my thoughts in to written words so well. It’s a bit spooky. :)

    • Sally in Chicago

      Yeh Slezak, #1 is esp. true. It’s turned into the judges’ show, all about the personalities at the table. We get very little about the contestants anymore…except when they hit the road.

    • True

      You nailed it. Idol got it wrong. Ellen neither will have the respect from the performers nor the viewers.

      • kellybelly

        My thoughts EXACTLY Slezak!! I love Ellen, but she was useless as a judge on SYTYCD. She was funny the first gag, but then it just got old, especially when you realized that that was all you’d get from her. What was the point exactly? Just to do something different for the show? Ok – one time experiments are fine. Her one night on SYTYCD was BORING!!!
        She will be EXACTLY the same on IDOL. The show will become all about Ellen – what jokes she did, didn’t do, how she’s only there to be nice, that she gives no critiques, and the show will now run way longer and we’ll all have to TIVO the news so we don’t miss any of FRINGE.

  • hey

    JUMP THE SHARK MOMENT FOR AMERICAN IDOL. DWTS/ABC are probably grinning from ear to ear. anyway now its time to work on replacing dioguardi with abdul! as far as i know dioguardi is only on a 1 year contract!

    • amj

      yes, agreed. I would support Ellen on the show if they brought Paula back and took Kara off.

      • twinmom

        Amen. Get rid of Kara.

    • Gale

      I agree get Kara out of there and bring back Paula! All Kara does is say the same thing over and over she makes me ill and I love Paula Abdul

  • Allison

    I couldn’t agree more. This is an insane bit of stunt casting, because “everybody loves Ellen!”, and while that might be true, this is the wrong fit for both Ellen and AI. Hopefully it will be a short-lived experiment.

    • Horace

      Allison, you nailed it: this is the wrong fit for both Ellen and AI. People love pie, and people love pickles. That doesn’t mean people will “extra” love a pickle pie.

      • Teresa

        I don’t love Ellen. I don’t think she’s funny at all and will be a total waste on AI. What a joke! If they wanted comic relief, they should have brought Paula back. At least she was good for a few laughs. What does Ellen know about singing? Probably about as much as David Hasselhoff knows about talent. Nothing!!

      • Amber

        Mmmm… Pickle Pie…

    • Tim

      Not everyone loves Ellen. Ellen is so fake. She uses her confusion shtick wayyyy to much. She’s always confused by things. She always makes things about herself. Look how she did as a judge on that dance program. This is the best they could do. BOOOO IDOL!

      • wd

        Thank you. She is a sweet personality ON AIR, but behind the scenes, the woman is a total byotch. Anyone who has worked with her (including producers) can tell you the woman has serious issues. Here’s an insider 411 from reputable car company the studio uses: She demands drivers not look her in the eye upon pick up. the only other person w. such request is P Diddy. Very sad that this woman claims to be the people’s voice. Puhleeze.

      • Jennifer

        You’re lying. You need to check your “sources.” I could type a lot of things about wd, but that wouldn’t make them true. Stick to the topic.

    • D

      Ellen has a FIVE YEAR contract!

      • kellybelly

        Yep – 5 year excruiating contract. Hopefully, they’ll replace Kara with Paula next season. Or Paula will come back as a guest judge/coach.

      • KK dognut

        This sucks. I would prefer they got another male judge. Maybe a rapper or someone like that? Hell how about you Micheal? You would be a great fourth judge. I would vote for you.

    • Amy

      I am a HUGE Ellen fan, but I feel like they are just baiting Paula. This casting decision will not work and betting that Paula will be back with us next season.

  • bbixler

    Yeah, I love Ellen, but I want somebody who knows and works in the music business to be the judge. Say what you want about Paula(crazy), she knew music.

    • tockwell

      Let’s not go too far now. Paula doesn’t exactly know music. She’s a dancer not a singer.

      • Christopher

        but I think Paula cut enough albums to qualify as a singer too. As for Ellen? Comedy albums don’t count.

      • PPK

        Completely agree! Paula was never known as a singer. She was only given a record deal when Producers saw dollars signs with her Dancing. The way to turn that into cash in the 80’s, with the advent of MTV and music videos, was to “record” her singing simple two-three note songs and do a video for MTV. Sorry to those who thought Paula was a singer but anyone could sing the songs she recorded just as well… to include Ellen!

      • pinkbunny

        Let’s face it–AI did a lot more for Paula than she ever did for them. I’ve been hoping she’d leave since halfway through Season 1 (the Dunkleman year!); since she was so useless, hard to see why anybody thinks a sober, reasonably coherent person could possibly do a worse job.

      • J

        Paula is so a singer… She recorded a very successful album. She may not be the best singer – but she is one none the less.

  • howard

    since you asked… i think the Idol panel should include one of the past winners. those performers know the issues first hand. i’d bet the wannabies would see their input in a very believable light.

    • Walter

      What a fantastic idea!

    • Luv Idolatry

      Amazing idea! Producers, are you listening?

    • Saphron

      And if nothing else, past winners or contestants who did very well a la Chris Daughtry, should serve as the guest judges.

      • jack

        or what Howard said.

    • RtG

      That would’ve been a great idea!

    • Kris

      I agree with most bloggers that as much as we love Ellen, this one has gone too far. Three judges are just fine, we need to hear the singers!!

    • sara

      That is a great idea! Plus, they can perform like they usually do!

    • PG

      BRILLIANT idea! What about Kimberly Locke? Everyone loves Kim! She went through it All in her Season of AI: Simon questioning her weight, her hair style and choice of wardrobe; having Reuben and Clay as best friends And competitors; not picking the best song for her voice; questioning her song choice, etc. She’s sweet but intelligent, would be empathetic, and could provide real life experience when giving her critques. Tween girls LUV her… she’d be my suggestion!

    • Georgia

      I wish I’d seen Howard’s comment before I posted. Great idea!!!

    • Shaunee

      That sounds like a great idea or someone that has made it pretty big that was on American Idol

    • Kathryn

      I like this idea.

    • Peggy Sue

      Howard, you are a genius. That is a fantastic idea. Michael Sleazak, would you please forward that to the producers??

    • Amy

      Brilliant, Howard, brilliant. If the producers are so set on another judge on a reg basis, bring in someone who’s been there and knows the ropes! AI Producers, are you listening?!

    • Toodles

      Great idea, Howard! I would have loved to see a past contestant be the permanent judge on Idol. I would also love to see guest judges be other past contestants as well. Some of the guest judges I question. Michael, you need to forward Howards suggestion to Idol ASAP!

  • Hawkfan

    Michael, I totally agree with you. My favorite show is SYTYCD (barely edging out AI) and I muted Ellen when she was on there. I tune in to see dancing not a self-aggrandizing comedian! (And I’m sure AI won’t be any better).

    • diana

      Same here. The canned responses from Ellen on SYTYCD made me queasy. And yeah, I had to check the spelling of queasy.

      • leo

        She was encouraging because that was quite a night. Everyone stepped up their game. No one got bashed that show except when Evan was critiqued for the shape of his eyes by Nigel (and Ellen got mad and defended him). She was brought in for comic relief but still stood up for Evan and had his back, and I think she’ll do the same (with less funny) on AI

    • susan holley

      I disagree…..I love SYTYCD…have watched every season…I thought Ellen was a breathe of fresh air from Mary’s constant screaming while ellen seemed totally in awe of the contestants & their performances.
      No judges table should ever take the spotlight from the performers….but I do value THEIR opinion WAY more than when they turn the judging over to the viewing audience where it then goes to strictly a “popularity” contest….headed by teeny boppers…
      I think we need to give Ellen a chance…..she may surprise everyone with her insight coupled with a great sense of humor.

      • Angel

        I’m there with you, Susan. the voting system should be changed and give the judges 50% say on who wins and not put all on the hands of tweens.
        I say as well give Ellen a chance because we need wit and humor which Kara and Randy are not blessed with. The chemistry between Paula and Simon was the entertainment side of the show.

      • Jean

        This is what I was waiting to read after seeing so many negative comments about Ellen’s new gig on American Idol. Give her a chance before you say you want nothing to do with her on the show. I’m guessing (and hoping) that she won’t use American Idol as a forum for comedy relief. I really don’t want to see that, but I do think she’ll be able to give Simon a run for his money if she doesn’t like comments he makes. This is a job for her, not a one-time deal like So You Think You Can Dance. They probably wanted her for comic relief. I was surprised to hear Ellen was the new American Idol judge, but we won’t know how she will do until we watch a few episodes.

      • jdaniels

        I agree that we should give her a chance before jumping to conclusions! Obviously some of these people don’t watch her talk show during AI seasons because she is always very vocal about the contestants and isn’t afraid to give her opinion! I don’t yet know how she will do but neither does anyone else! I am also interested to see how she works with Simon! Go Ellen!

  • hunter

    i agree with your comments, however i’m hoping she HEARS these comments that you and other critics of fox’s decision are making and consequently learns from them and becomes a REAL judge unlike the babbling paula. in other words, i’m okay with this decision as long as she doesn’t repeat her sytycd performance. i’d so looked forward to that and was totally disappointed.

    • kellybelly

      Totally agree!!

  • Kellan

    I LOVE Ellen, but after seeing her on SYTYCD, I don’t think she belongs as a permanent judge for Idol. What’s the point of her being there if she can’t actually critique the contestants? She is nice to everyone! I realize ratings matter to the producers, but this casting reeks of desperation. Again, Ellen is one of my favorite people, but even my love for her isn’t bringing me back to Idol. If anything, it gives me another reason why I’m done with Idol. American Idol hasn’t been about the actual contestants in a long time, and Ellen as 4th judge just solidifies that point.

    • my2sense

      COuldn’t agree more. The show has NEVER been about the contestants, it is a platform for Simon to preen and growl and humiliate, but adding a comedian as judge IS another nail in its coffin. Good riddance.

    • ella

      I agree! That did it! She was so awful on SYTYCD, I am done with AI as well. I felt embarassed for her. She wasn’t even funny… seemed like she was running out of jokes/comments. Three judges is enough!

  • Nessa

    No offence to Ellen, but she is not fit to be a music show judge. She already failed as SYTYCD guest judge. It would be like Seacrest replacing Cowell! I will not be watching. I hope Paula joins SYTYCD I think that show has a lot of potentioal but needs more charisma on its panel in order to get more buzz and publicity. And i think Paula might just be the girl who will make SYTYCD a bigger hit!

  • selena

    BEST move in American Idol History.
    Ellen will be the fans judge-finally.
    I was sick of Paula, and really dont care at all for Kara.

    For someone who only tuned into this show for Adam Lambert, I will now watch because of her.

    • Chris

      I don’t buy the whole “she’s the people’s judge” slant. You know who the peoples’ judge is? The People. Every week they voice their opinion with their Votes. Fans don’t need a surrogate judge to represent their PoV, esp when they are responsible for who stays and who goes. For once, give us a judge with critical insight and an ear for talent, not a couple of meat puppets and a blowhard who want nothing more than to hear the incessant rattling of their own teeth.

      • Auntie

        Absolutely! If it were up to the judges, we’d have entirely different winners every year. We represent and think for ourselves just fine. We don’t need someone to tell us how to think. But the contestants could use an articulate helpful advocate for them!

  • Lori

    It does not make sense to me. I sure don’t see the relevance at all. This is not about stand-up, or is the show trying to change direction. This WAS our favorite show.

  • MynndaCT

    “Can I get a “hell to the no” up in here?” – I love it when white people get gangsta. Go on wit cho’ bad self Slezak!

    • D

      I think Slezak should have been the “people’s judge”!

  • kevoh

    This totally su***. This woman has no talent period, just sensatiionalism because she is gay. She cant sing. She cant act. So who the hell is she to judge others on things she cant do? Ill watch but gag everytime she comments.

    • Shasta

      FINALLY someone who doesn’t love Ellen. I’ve hated her since her sitcom days. Cannot understand the appeal. So, even though I love Idol, the thought of sitting through Ellen’s mugging and Jay Leno level of humor will keep me tuning OUT. Thanks, AI. Idiots.

      • Shasta

        Although I just reread kevoh’s statement and want to point out that I don’t agree with the “sensationalism cuz she’s gay” part. I just don’t like Ellen, don’t care which way she swings. She’s been around and popular for a long time now, so I think the media and society have moved past any “sensationalism” there may have been about her orientation.

      • Q?

        WHO IS FUNNY TO YOU THEN?????

      • Chris

        Who cares who is funny to them? This is a music program, not a comedy showcase. Also, more caps and question marks please. Cuz that’s what’s funny to me.

    • MrMank

      I think all of the sensationalism has maybe gone to her head, and maybe the AI thing is a disaster waiting to happen, but I disagree a million percent (to quote Randy Jackson) that Ellen has no talent whatsoever. I’m sorry, but behind Lucille Ball and Carol Burnette, Ellen is the funniest woman in the business. I stand by that, well…a million percent.

      • YES

        YES, agree a million percent!

    • Eric

      Listening to Ellen will be no worse than listening to Randy Jackson’s nonsense. He’s basically a glorified parrot that only knows about 4-5 phrases. I’ll miss Paula, but Ellen will be a welcome change. If she sucks, she’ll be replaced next season.

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