Simon Cowell: Who should replace him on 'American Idol'?

Plenty of folks were left reeling from yesterday’s announcement that the current ninth season of American Idol will be Simon Cowell’s last. Heck, even I made the sound of a skittish Pomeranian getting caught underfoot before steeling myself for an inevitable blogging frenzy. But as Carly Smithson so aptly reminded us during season 7: “Show must go on!” And since Fox has already announced plans to air a Cowell-free Idol in 2011, the obvious question becomes: Who should replace him?

Before we address some possibilities, a humble request to the suits at Fox, 19, and Fremantle who’ll be hunkering down to make this decision: Please, put the kibosh on replacing Simon with a “cranky British type” (i.e. Piers Morgan). Because, really, what better way to remind us of the absence of the show’s most popular judge than to offer up a similar-yet-inferior substitute? It’d be like swapping in New Coke for Coke Classic. Or Dennis Farina for Jerry Orbach. Idol needs a new panelist who possesses Simon’s casual but brutal honesty, his succinctness, and his occasional sense of wonder over a brilliant performance — but with a distinctively different style. And while it’s impossible to predict who’ll be able to deliver the goods live on camera for a massive TV audience — perhaps the most important and most difficult aspect of Simon’s job — I’d like to suggest five folks who might want to drop their resumes off at Idol HQ:

Linda Perry: The megaproducer (and former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman) is reportedly a perfectionist in the studio and has helped powerhouse vocalists like Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Adam Lambert reach impressive artistic heights. Knowledge of what it takes to make a hit record combined with live performance experience could make her an interesting, offbeat choice. And wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a woman in the role of judges’ panel tough-guy?

Pharrell Williams: Like Perry, Williams (as one half of the Neptunes) has written and produced an impressive collection of chart-toppers (for Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake), and he, too, has plenty of on-stage experience thanks to his stint in N*E*R*D. So in other words, he’s more current than Randy, hipper than Simon, and less infuriating than that table-banging monster. Talk about a win-win-win!

Quentin Tarantino: He was pretty terrific guest-judging “Movie Soundtrack Night” during season 3, and if Seacrest can do a morning radio show, E! News, red-carpet coverage, and produce that stank Kardashian show while hosting Idol, surely Tarantino can juggle a little movie directing with his new critiquing duties, no?

Ben Folds: My colleague Ken Tucker already made the Folds-as-Idol-panelist case after his gig on NBC’s The Sing-Off (while PopWatch tastemaker Wendy Mitchell wanted to give the guy his own show!). Plus, several of you gave Folds a shout-out in the comments section of my “Idol will be okay!” blog item yesterday. But as someone who was out of the country for much of the show’s run, I have to ask: Is Folds acerbic enough to do the job properly?

Piers Morgan: Can’t. Do not want.

Madonna: Okay, so she has a sort-of British accent, but let’s not DQ her from the gig just yet. Think about it: Her Madgesty is cantankerous and outspoken, completely comfortable with a massive audience, and as the former head of Maverick Records, has a good idea of what it takes to launch a major-label artist (like Alanis Morissette, for example). Plus, you just know she’d kill for a venue to keep her pop-cultural relevancy well into her 60s. I’m kind of loving this prospect, and if it happens, I’d like to be rewarded with a five-figure salary and a producer credit from Simon Fuller.

Your turn, Idoloonies! Who would you hire to replace Simon Cowell? (And don’t say “no one,” since someone is gonna get the gig.) Vote in our poll below, then head to the comments section to defend your choices or nominate “others.” Also: For the love of Hollywood Week, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak!

More ‘American Idol':
Slezak: ‘American Idol’ without Simon Cowell: Three reasons I’m optimistic about the show’s future!
Slezak: Adam Lambert + ‘Ugly Betty': Let’s make this happen, God!
Slezak: ‘Idolatry': Fantasia on her VH1 reality show, ‘Color Purple’ rumors, and Simon Cowell as hero
EW exclusive: The first interview with judges Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell

Allison Iraheta on Kimmel: ‘Oh yeah!’

Image Credit: Perry: Jen Lowery/PR Photos; Williams: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos; Tarantino: Richard Young/; Folds: Chris Haston/NBC; Morgan: Michael Williams/; Madonna: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos

Comments (391 total) Add your comment
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  • paige

    no Madonna needs to stay on vacation for about 5 months then go back to the studio and then do another tour. I’m sure to her, American Idol is beneath her. I think Linda perry would be the better choice.

    • SuperTrooper

      Ben Folds was brilliant. I would actually watch Idol if he were to take over as judge.

      • Eyeball

        If anything that I ever cared about still matters, please god do not put Ben Folds on Idol.

        This is the man who wrote ‘Philosophy’. Don’t prove yourself right, Ben. Dammit.

      • Sydney

        Someone mean, critical and knows talent! Simon has enough money and doesnt need this job there are PLENTY of other people who could do his job.

      • Amanda

        Ben Folds was brilliant, but I don’t think he’s right for Idol and he’s not harsh enough to replace Simon.

      • KC

        I have to agree with you super.

      • singlemillionairesmatch

        I think it should be Pierce

    • Puh-lease…

      They should “reboot” the entire show. All new judges. Get rid of the dead weight of Randy, the miss-know-it-allness of Kara, and the unfunny Ellen.

      • Eden Hall

        Agree 100% with Puh-lease. Wipe out the regulars and start anew! This should be a new birth, not a reincarnation.

      • Steve from Canada

        This year is already sure to be a disaster with unfunny, ridiculous, stupid Ellen (yuk!!!).

      • Chris

        …and get rid of that big phoney Seacrest while you’re at it.

      • dina

        Completely completely agree.

      • The Real Deal

        I guarantee you that Ellen will go down as the most-hated host in the history of this show.
        Not only the fact that she has no clue what real talent there is, she has no clue what real comedy is either.
        She will fail on both counts.

      • Just announced:

        Simon’s US version of X-Factor will have Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon himself as judges.
        They’re still looking for a host…
        Stay tuned!

      • Em

        So you guys have written off Ellen before her first show even airs? Nice.

      • ^

        Why not?
        She’s got a terrible track-record.
        She’s lucky she’s holding on to that horrible talk-show she has.

      • Mike

        Keep Randy & Ellen. Get rid of Kara, for some reason I don’t like her. Add Linda Perry or Pharrell Williams because he’s young and talented

      • Mike

        Ellen is very funny!!!!!

      • Brent

        Second or third the getting rid of Seacrest…can’t stand him.

      • terri

        I totally agree with “Puh-lease” ! Didn’t like Kara last year as the “new judge”, and will miss Paula this year… and don’t see any future with Ellen on there at all.

      • mangagirl

        Totally agree, get rid of everyone and start fresh. I would like Ben Folds to be one of the new judges. You need to keep Seacrest just for a sense of continuity.

      • Don

        to ^: Ellen has a great track record and several Emmys. What are you smoking?

      • Andi

        I agree with Puh-lease; dump the lot of them & start over! Please, NO MADONNA, I can’t stand her!

      • Suzy

        Yes…reboot! And put together a new set of judges. This time they can go for a different mix and pump some new opinions and ‘renewed interest’ into the show.

    • Gordon Ramsey

      I would be brilliant for this show…who can chew someone’s @ss better than me?

      • tammy corso

        You are the one!!!!! I vote for Gordon Ramsey and have from the start. I can’t think of a better person!!!!

    • Live Music Fan

      Ian Dickinson from America’s Next Great Band.

      Aww heck, just scrap the AI model and bring back ANGB!!!!!

    • Amy

      Madonna doesn’t approve of tv. I don’t think she likes the show because she’s never been a mentor either.

      • googliezoo

        Which is weird if true because MTV and her videos helped her gain huge popularity in the 80s.

    • NES

      DAVID FOSTER! He’s been on Idol few times as a guest judge and he’ll be great! He is an American Simon Cowell, IMO!

      • Lara

        David Foster is CANADIAN!

      • BeeV60

        I happen to like Piers Morgan, but David Foster mentors new talent. He’d be great.

        Why pre-judge Ellen? I watch her show now and then when they have an AI guest…don’t really like talk shows etc.

        But I really think she’d be fair to people–would’ve made a great ‘check’ on Simon. But now that he, Randy and Paula will do X-Factor, give her a chance!

        How about Mariah Carey’s hubby as a host for X-Factor???

    • NES

      Ohh, I came up with another one. Dolly Parton! Shows rating will go up the roof! All the middle aged men will watch AI as well, LOL!

    • Jules

      Sean “P Diddy” Combs I think he would be realistic..

    • Blue Silver

      How about Simon Le Bon or John Taylor of Duran Duran! Now, that would be inspired casting. :)

      • Lisa

        Simon Lebon! I think he actually would be PERFECT for it! Seriously!

  • Nancy

    Linda Perry!!!

  • Annie


    • Andrea

      Yes yes yes!

    • Nat

      YES. 100% backing on that one. Or Slezak.

      • amanda

        BOTH OF THEM

      • kellen


      • Wendy

        Forgive my ignorance but what do you mean by “this”?

      • AaronT

        Hey Wendy, when someone says “THIS” they mean they wholeheartedly agree with the previous comment.

    • chilliguy

      Perfect ! She would be incredible !

  • Daniela Menezes

    I think producer David Foster is a good way to go… he’s familiar with the show and the producers, and some say, can be meaner than Simon

    • nointrospec

      Good insight, Danilea Menezes, because I think the new judge will have to be a background person like Foster–but not him. I think Foster wants to be liked too much. That’s the prob with most frontmen/women–they want to be liked, so they back off when they hear the crowd boo. And Tarantino looks like he’s going to cry or hit someone when people vehemently disagree with him.
      It’s a hard role to fill. It has to be someone with enough confidence to ignore the crowd. Someone with good musical judgement to know what the crowd ultimately wants. (It’s no good if the judge sticks by her decisions, but the decisions are fatally flawed.)And, finally, someone likeable. Simon is all of the above. Possibly a record producer or A&R person who looks good but doesn’t care that they do? Or forget all that, and just hire Conan–I hear he’s looking for a new gig.

      • Ron

        i think david foster would be an excellent match. why not have someone who can also name drop other than randy, plus he’s worked with more than just mariah carey. he seems to have a wider range of talent like michael buble

  • Linda K

    I hear David Hasselhoff is looking for a new gig . . .DON’T Hassel the Hoff

    • Carole

      The Hoff !?!?!?!???!- I would rather have the talking car KITT – snarky and shows no emotions

      • Suzy

        Amen Carole! LOL

  • LOL

    Piers was my 1st choice.
    So I pick Linda Perry

  • Yaha

    While I’ll miss Simon to a certain extent, hopefully him leaving will put the focus of the show back where it belongs … on the performers rather than the judges.

  • Bobby’s Robot

    Brian Dunkleman

    • Monica

      Ha! I thought I was the only one who remembered that guy

      • tobias

        did you know he’s hosting X Factor, this fall?

    • idol lover

      omg Dunkleman! lol I can see WHY he only lasted 1 season!

  • Kate

    I would be between Linda Perry and Ben Folds and here would be my reasoning for Ben Folds…he is not has hard nosed as Simon, but is honest and does it in a kind and concise manner. He also will disagree in a respectful manner with his co judges (though, Shawn from Boys 2 Men actually made a lot of sense and you could understand what he was talking about, but that might be because he is closer to my age (32) than my mother’s (Randy)).

  • Matt

    Michael mentioned rebooting the entire panel, so how about Pharrell instead of Randy, Linda instead of Kara, and Ben Folds instead of Simon…?

    • gigi

      I like that idea! I definetly want to see Linda Perry involved in some way. Or my honorable mention: Gladys Knight.

    • harley quinn

      Best idea yet! I voted for Ben Folds in the poll.

  • Kay

    Kanye West- he likes to give his opinion whether asked or not, has experience in the music business and is controversial

    • Ceballos

      I have to admit – Kanye’s got the music credentials and, more importantly, I would TOTALLY watch this!

      • Don

        Kanye? Music credentials? On what planet? The man can’t sing and can barely rap.

    • Celia

      He would be interesting! I would love to see Ricky Gervais, because we need someone British whose not afraid to speak their mind, but I don’t think he has any music cred.

      • Mary

        Ricky Gervais was in an 80s pop duo, believe it or not. They were called Seona Dancing. They weren’t very successful, but Ricky does play guitar and he wrote a couple of funny songs for “The Office (UK).” I’m all for him being a judge!

      • IDOLfan

        RICKY GERVAIS would be PERFECT! FOX are you listening?!?!?!

    • Quirky

      Kanye doesn’t need to be on the panel. He could just sit in the front row and jump up on stage whenever he wants.

    • Sarah

      I would love to see Kanye as a guest judge…too bad it’s a singing competition, not a rapping competition, lol.

  • dpinmd

    Ben Folds. Definitely. And I submit to you that just as unnecessary (and undesirable) to look for someone “acerbic enough” as it is to look for someone “cranky” and “British.” I’d like to see Idol go in a completely different direction rather than trying to “replace” Simon. Rather than cranky, British, and acerbic, why not charming, but knowledgable, and honest?

    • dpinmd

      Sorry, typo — above should read “it is just as unnecessary…”

    • EWsMom

      Charming, knowledgeable and honest?


    • Andre

      I knew little of Ben before “The Sing-Off”, but really enjoyed listening to his comments. Idol would be lucky to have someone of his calibre.

      Simon represents the label/producer. If that remains Fox’s focus – to have different perspectives from the industry on the panel, they simply need to look at the staff list of whichever label will sign the winner.

  • genofmontreal

    I vote for you Michael. Or Kristen Baldwin (just to see the Idols shake from fear)

  • Mamo


    • MarcoPolo

      I thought about Diddy as well, but do we need to inflate that Ego anymore?

      • Don

        Diddy? We don;t need more skank girl bands

  • Ceballos

    Is there an option where I can have Folds (truly excellent on “The Sing Off” and I don’t subscribe to the notion that there HAS to be an acerbic judge) and Perry next year to replace Simon and Randy (who I fired in my head five years ago for being utterly useless)?

    • Elizabeth

      I think Ceballos is on to something: pick a brand new panel — you can lose one of the original judges, but at what point does Fox admit that a Simon-less Idol will just be a shell of itself?
      Four Judges:
      1. A producer
      2. An A&R person
      3. A musician
      4. Alternating guest judge, based on the theme of the week and their knowledge of the subject matter, whether its a journalist (that would be you Slezak), artist in that genre, etc.

      • GinaBallerina

        I like your ideas, Elizabeth, except for the guest judge. I absolutely hated having guest judges because they are not put in a comfortable position – being there for only one week, of course they are not going to say something mean, thereby rendering most of their comments useless.

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