'American Idol': Nigel Lythgoe, Justin Timberlake top latest rumors. What will the season 10 judges' panel look like?

american-idol-judge-sweepstakesImage Credit: Janet Mayer/PR Photos; Fox; Michael Becker/FoxAs American Idol‘s season 10 cattle-call auditions continue — the show stopped yesterday in New Orleans, and will head to New Jersey next week — and the September call-back rounds in front of the judges draw closer, speculation is heating up about who will fill the Simon Cowell Memorial Chair. According to The Hollywood Reporter, former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who left the show prior to its eighth season, is thisclose to signing a deal to return to that position for season 10 (alongside Ken Warwick, Simon Fuller, and Cecile Frot-Coutaz); what makes that news especially juicy is the fact that Lythgoe went on the record last spring saying that not only did he prefer a three-judge format for the show (woot!), but that after Cowell’s exit, he favored sweeping the entire judges’ table clean and starting fresh with new panelists (whoa!). The THR story also mentioned that Idol creator Simon Fuller’s current wish list of judges includes Justin Timberlake and Elton John. A Fox spokesperson declined to comment on the Lythgoe rumors or any potential changes at the judges’ table, but here’s a rundown of reported front-runners, along with a few former mentors whose names ought to be included in the conversation. Check ‘em out for yourself, then vote for your favorite in our handy PopWatch poll:

Justin Timberlake Pros: Having successfully navigated the tricky voyage from Mouseketeer to boy-bander to solo phenomenon, he certainly has the necessary industry cred for the job, and his knowledge of music written after 1990 could drag the typically fusty Idol panel into the post-Celine era. Plus, as he’s proven on SNL and the ESPYs, his quick wit doesn’t abandon him in front of a live audience. Cons: Hard to think of any, although he’ll need to show a willingness to crush the dreams of talentless kids harboring delusions of singing stardom. One other caveat: It’s not hard to imagine his critiques getting drowned out by continual screaming from overheated teen Swaybots. (Insert shudder of horror here.) Likelihood: He’s reportedly on Simon Fuller’s wish list, but is he too big a star to slum it in reality TV? Possibleeeeee. But it’s worth noting that JT hasn’t released a full-length disc since 2006, and that in recent years, he’s shown considerable interest in discovering, producing, and collaborating with a wide range of artists. Plus, Idol will give him summers off to shoot the occasional big-screen role. Maybe this gig is right up his alley?

Elton John Pros: Sans Simon Cowell, the Idol panel desperately needs a musically credible judge who’s willing to be brutally, deliciously honest, and the notoriously outspoken Elton is one of the few people on the planet who fills both of those requirements — perhaps better than Cowell himself. Lest we forget, this is the man who called the Idol voting process racist after the infamous season 3 Divagate incident that saw Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia Barrino, and LaToya London in the bottom three, while John Stevens and Jasmine Trias stood in safety. Cons: The musical landscape has changed considerably since “Circle of Life” was a radio hit. Can Elton help choose a top 24 filled with viable future hitmakers? (Um, probably.) Likelihood: His was one of the first names that surfaced among Idol fans and media prognosticators when Cowell announced plans to leave the show, and his name surfaced again yesterday. So far, however, there’s been no word from Sir Elton’s camp that he’s interested.

Harry Connick Jr. Pros: His season 9 mentor gig proved he knows how to be affable and honest, and perhaps most importantly, provide the contestants with credible constructive criticism.  Cons: Oddly enough, despite Connick’s rock-solid advice and fine arrangements, Frank Sinatra Week wasn’t exactly a musical high point of the season. Plus, his big-band tendencies could shift the contestants toward a less radio-ready sound. Likelihood: Recent experience with the show — and the resulting audience good will it created — are a plus, as was an endorsement from no less than Mr. Cowell himself.

Chris Isaak Pros: Like Connick, Isaak has a mixture of singing and acting experience (including his self-titled sitcom) that should give him an edge getting comfortable in front of the camera. Cons: Honestly, seems a little low-wattage for the gig; it’s been over 20 years since the release of his sole smash hit, “Wicked Game,” which lent an aura of “him? really?” to reports that he’d met twice with Fox brass about taking over Cowell’s seat. Likelihood: If it comes down to a choice between him and the better-known Connick, is there any hope for Isaak?

Usher Pros: Much like Timberlake, Usher has survived the transition from teen sensation to adult superstar, with two slight advantages: He’s got current hits on the radio right this second, and he’s logged time in the Idol-verse, serving as a mentor for R&B Week this past season. Plus, his discovery of ubiquitous Twitter trending topic Justin Bieber gives him the A&R edge over Timberlake and his protégé, YouTube star Esmee Denters. Cons: Brought an encouraging, new-agey vibe to his mentoring sessions — remember how he asked Tim Urban to sing directly to him, like a lover? — that lacked the unfiltered sting of classic Cowell. Likelihood: Lythgoe has previously mentioned Usher as an ideal panelist — and now that the former executive producer is rumored to be reuniting with the show, he has a chance to try and make that dream a reality.

Nigel Lythgoe Pros: The patented British bitchery he brings to So You Think You Can Dance would fit comfortably in Cowell’s Idol chair. Cons: Is there any way to make us miss Cowell more than by replacing him with a pale substitute? Likelihood: Lythgoe is a tough and meticulous presence on SYTYCD — but his expertise is in dance, not singing. Plus, in this critical transitional season, can Lythgoe afford to get distracted from his behind-the-scenes duties? Then again, who’s going to tell the guy he’s not right for the job?

Jennifer Lopez Pros: Okay, so she’s not exactly Barbra Streisand, but let’s flash back for a second to Lopez’s season 6 mentor stint: Not only was she warm and honest and funny, but she seemed genuinely invested in how the contestants performed, almost as if she’d been watching the show all season, rather than having just dropped in for a week to promote her latest disc. And (J)lo and behold, she managed to get a performance out of Sanjaya Malakar that wasn’t completely atrocious. Cons: Yeah, she’s not exactly Barbra Streisand, but you know you wouldn’t change the station if “Waiting for Tonight” came on. Likelihood: Lopez parted ways with her record label in February, and her latest flick, The Backup Plan, underwhelmed at the box office, so maybe it’s time to shake up her career. There are worse places to start than a TV show that draws 20 million viewers per episode.

Shania Twain Pros: Guest-judged the season 9 auditions in Chicago, which just so happened to yield winner Lee DeWyze and runner-up Crystal Bowersox. Better still, Shania was reasonably tough, and occasionally quite funny — so much so that we forgot all about Paula Abdul’s much-discussed absence from the panel. Cons: Nope, can’t really think of any. Likelihood: Already announced plans to launch Why Not? With Shania Twain on The Oprah Winfrey Network next year. Then again, it’s not like she’d be the first Idol judge to juggle multiple projects during a season.

Kara DioGuardi Pros: Stepped up her game and actually offered plenty of constructive criticism to the season 9 finalists, from encouraging Casey James to choose rangier songs to sagely steering Katie Stevens away from country. Cons: Still has a tendency to try to force “Idol Moments” (i.e. rubbing up against Simon; playing up her “cougardom”), but those annoyances began to subside by season’s end. Likelihood: According to THR, her year-to-year contract has yet to be inked.

Randy Jackson Pros: His bejeweled skull t-shirts and jaunty bracelets certainly provide some visual zip to the proceedings! Plus, he’s been on the panel all nine seasons. Cons: Yo, dawg, what’s goin’ down? I don’t know, for me for you, you’ve been kind of pitchy forever, but you did your thing in the end, even though that thing is basically defined by a limited vocabulary, a rambling style of critique, and almost no constructive feedback. Likelihood: Has a contract that would take him through the show’s tenth season.

Ellen DeGeneres Pros: Her season 9 tenure in Hollywood Week proved she was capable of giving honest, sometimes necessarily unpleasant feedback to contestants. Cons: Unfortunately, she abandoned that track once live episodes began in favor of lamely labeling everything “good,” “great,” and “really great.” Likelihood: Has a multi-year deal with the show. Forcing her out could be expensive — from both a monetary and a public-relations standpoint.

How would you cast the season 10 judges’ panel? Vote in our poll below, then sound off with further thoughts in the comments section below! [Related: ‘American Idol’ 15 Ways to Fix It; ‘Idolatry': Allison Iraheta performs acoustic ‘Holiday,’ talks ‘Glam Nation’ tour; ‘American Idol’ season 9 tour review: Newark, we have a problem!; follow Slezak on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.]

Comments (209 total) Add your comment
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  • Phil

    Justin Bieber as the new judge!

    • Scobes

      I actually think Nigel Lythgoe would be a good choice, he exec-produced American Idol for years.

      • Chris p.

        Kara is a good choice although a lot of people don”t like her she has consistent advice and good criticism. Shania is a 100% thumbs up for me. She was hilarious as a guest judge and gave good advice. She’s like the humor of Paula minus the being high part. JT would be too annoying, he just would be. If they could get Elton John I would be over the rainbow with joy. He can give the harsh criticism that we are losing with Simon leaving and can be the new “Judge everyone loves to hate.” One person that they didn’t put on the list that I think deserves a fair shot is Katy Perry. At first when I saw that she was going to be a guest judge I was like “wtf” but when she was on she was actually good. I think she would be a good permanent addition.

      • calistoga

        As a devoted fan of AI for 9 yrs, I would like to see the judges panel shaken up! However, we have at least one more year of Randy & Ellen. I like both, but we desparately need a clean slate!!!
        It should be only three!!! Otherwise, we have too much jabber, and not enough time with contestants. It should NOT be all of one gender or genre. We need/want judges who are knowledgeable and articulate to speak of the contestant’s performance and stage presence, not on behalf of themselves (ala has-been Abdul)!

        We also need a new emcee (one who doesn’t consider this his/her show), like the very gracious and adept Cat Deely.
        Considering the mess that went on last year, we need Nigel behind the cameras to clean house and kick a**, so that we can get back to concentrating on these very fine young singers!!!

      • Brianna

        Kara is a bad judge. Michael-Ya Kara would steer Katie away from country, but she also brainwashed Katie into doing R&B. Katie did good with stuff like At Last, Wild Horses and Let it be. She did youtube videos of herself before American Idol and the songs that she would sing were not even close to R&B. Now Katie probably feels like she has to do R&B because its what professionals are going to want from her. Kara embarrassed Katie on one of the elimination nights by talking about the Wild Horses performance but then praises her about the Fergie performance. Just so happens Katie ended up in the bottom with the Fergie and other R&B performances. Just saying a contestant should not have to do a genre that is not meant for them. I am just confused if R&B is the true Katie at heart. Just my opinion.

      • Brianna

        Michael-You should have also put Brett Michaels and Jamie Foxx.

      • Brianna

        Michael you should have put Bret Michaels and Jamie Foxx!

      • Brianna

        Oh crap. Did not mean to write that twice. The website did not put the first one down right away.

      • Brianna


      • Angelina

        Yes! Vote Vote Vote for him! Agree with you about Kara too. She is a bad judge. Hopefully they will end up getting more than just one replacement. I love Bret! He would rock the show!

      • Tom

        We don’t need some Justin or Beyonce shallow judge that thinks that they always have to be on top and better than everyone else. Just get the fun Bret on the show. He is the celebrity that truly loves his career. He did a great job as a judge on Nashville Star. His personality rocks.

      • You suck

        Don’t diss Randy! Randy is a very successful person who has accomplished so many amazing memories. Are you successful like him Michael? Randy has won a Grammy Award as a producer. He is a music manager, record producer, A&R executive, bassist, singer, and television show executive producer for MTV’s America’s best dance crew. You don’t have motivation like Randy. Ok Michael. So stop acting like he has done nothing for the show. Randy is the only music smart judge there right now. Get over your dumb crush on your little songwriter Kara! I’m sure you’ll be able to do just fine without her when she gets fired!

      • Liz

        I agree! Even go to the wikipedia website. Look up Randy and Kara. Randy is the one who knows more about the music business. He is a great music manager who knows how to help contestants. He gives advice that will help them to stand out and make it in the music world. Kara sucks! There really is not a lot special about her. She is good. But not amazing.

      • Brianna

        Put my comment back up! There was nothing wrong with it! The one that has to do with Katie, and Kara forcing her to do R&B.

    • darclyte

      Riiight. Ok then. I recall reading a few months ago that Elton wasn’t interested. Toss him enough money though and he might be. Timberlake doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Here are a few that are (other than already named by Slezak): Here are just a few suggestions for people to consider to be made a judge: Neil Patrick Harris, Steven Lillywhite, Ken “Babyface” Edmonds, P Diddy, Billy Joel, Ben Folds, and George Michael. I know Ryan has a multi-year contract still, but perhaps only have him do the audition, Hollywood, and Top 24 rounds, then when they move to the Top 12, have Ellen take over his job. Bring Ryan back for Idol Gives Back and the finale as the co-host.

      • Jennifer

        Ben Folds would be awesome.

    • jordan

      Justin Timberlake, Kara DioGuardi, and Shania Twain. Please.

    • naynay

      Oh, please! I just threw up.

      • Brianna

        Me too!! That is the worst list ever!! Real special people-ya right!!

    • jake

      ELTON JOHN AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE HAVE VEHEMENTLY DENIED THAT THEY WILL EVER HOST — check out deadline.com for their hilarious responses. I say producer David Foster should replace simon — he’s mean, has a knack for finding great talent and showed his judging skills on simon Cowell’s DUETS.

    • starbbycat

      please not jt – he is so annoying – i think either elton john or someone noone knows who is as crass as simon is

    • First_Marti

      Brett Michaels, Brett Michaels, Brett Michaels, Brett Michaels,Brett Michaels,Brett Michaels,Brett Michaels,Brett Michaels! Did you ever think about asking Brett Michaels? He actually WANTS to do it and would be great!!

    • Dee

      I say John Mellencamp as judge!

  • Janizzle

    I love JT, but I remember him saying around Season 5 that the show is a joke…would he really be up for the job?

    • m

      timberlake is too talented, he can’t switch his focus to this trash now

      • nicole

        Too talented? How is he too talented? And what does talent have to do with judging Idol?

      • Brianna

        They better not put him as a judge!

    • jrs

      Awww, cmon, this dude has old out more often than a desperate hooker. Of course he’d do it.

  • WatchesEverything

    Ben Folds ftw.

    • mscisluv

      Ben Folds, Ben Folds, & Ben Folds.

      • Merton

        Also, if possible, Ben Folds.

      • emily

        OOOH! Ben Folds FTW!!

      • Riss

        Ben Folds! I’d actually start watching again if he were a judge. Plus, he got great reviews for his judging on ‘The Sing Off.’

    • melissa

      Yes, Ben Folds!

    • BlackIrish4094


      • mike

        Exactly. Ben Folds is not a household name. I doubt if he would be picked.

      • Jules

        Ben Folds is awesome! And, who had ever heard of Randy or Kara before Idol? Or Simon Cowell for that matter? Paula Abdul was the “big” name for heaven’s sake.

    • James

      I’m rocking the suburbs,
      just like Simon Cowell did.
      I’m rocking the suburbs,
      only he was talented.
      I’m rocking the suburbs,
      I take the checks and face the facts.
      Some contestants with ambitions
      come up with some sh***y tracks
      These days….

    • emacco

      Ben Folds would be a genius pick. That’s why I don’t expect it to happen.

  • Mari

    Perfect Judging pannel:
    Elton John – The mean guy
    Shania Twain – The Lady
    Harry Connick Jr. – Comic relief

    I wouldn’t mind keeping Kara though, she is growing on me (although I still pretty much hate her…), but I would have second thoughts on watching next season if Randy was still in it… He is pissing me off!

    • RememberMe


    • Brenda Barrett

      If they brought in Elton and Shania and dumped Randy, I’d totally start watching again. (I stopped three years ago.)

    • mike

      You’re right, Randy needs to go. And as annoying as she can be sometimes, Kara needs to stay. She gives good constructive criticism and she has music cred as a contemporary songwriter. And btw, Ellen is more useless than a fifth wheel.

    • anna

      this is the most freaking ideal of panels. honestly cant think of a better 3some.

    • Diggity

      Good, I’d also accept Chris Isaac in Harry’s spot. He’s funny and super hot. His show was so great back in the day and Wicked Game is still one of my all time fav songs.

  • Kara

    Nigel Lythgoe on the panel would finally make me let go of this guilty pleasure show. I can’t endure back to back reality show judging from him and SYTYCD will always win over American Idol is. Although maybe he’d let someone else judge SYTYCD in which case: please go to AI! You can perv on girls there and give the panel to Dan Karaty for dance. He’s the only judge to honestly critique and not be baised. Shame they got rid of him.

    • Sarah D

      Karatay was an egotistical douche, I’m glad he’s gone.

      • Kara

        Are you sure you didn’t mean to write Nigel Lythgoe there? Because out of anyone on that show, Nigel is the most egotistical and the most inclined to be a douche. Karaty, while not the best choreographer is a great judge to have. He critiques, gives advice and isn’t flat out rude when a routine is bad. He has given great advice to dancers from this show while Nigel bases all his comments first on how he feels about that particular dancer and either berates or overly praises them.

  • Cady

    Doesn’t putting still viable recording artists (i.e., JT, Usher) on the AI panel signal premature endings to good careers? One of the reason Paula was such a fun judge is because she wasn’t as successful in 2001 as she had been in the early 1990s. Judging the show actually upped her cred. I think it would have the opposite effect with those guys. My dream panel would include Kara, Harry Connick Jr. (who has frankly been doing his own thing, career-wise, for about 17 years), and a talented record producer that has yet to be named.

  • na

    As much as I love Justin Timberlake he is not a candidate for Idol. He’s got too much going on career wise, hopefully another album soon and his disapproval of the show will likely have him turn down the position. If they can convince him to be a guest mentor that’d be fantastic.
    My vote is for Harry Connick Jr. He was great as the guest judge, he was brutally honest, funny and knowledgeable.
    I also vote for doing away with Dumb Dumber, and Dumbest (aka Randy, Kara and Ellen) But if they have to keep one I’d pick Randy because he’s the only original.

  • Andrew

    I don’t want Jennifer Lopez. She supported Sanjaya too much when he could barely sing.

    • Vince from NYC

      It’s probably because she can’t sing either.

      • Maureen

        LOL! Best comment! ;)

      • Angelina


  • Andrew

    Plus Jennifer Lopez was a mentor on SEASON 6 not 7!

    • KRG

      BRET MICHAELS;-) He would be fun on the show and give it a bit of edge.

      • First_Marti

        BRET MICHAELS would be good. He would be honest,but not mean to contestants. He would give constructive criticism, even if it was: “This is just not your thing, Dude.” He would take the entire thing seriously, and most important, HE WANTS TO DO IT!!!

      • Brianna

        I love Bret! Loved his reality show!

    • Andrew

      I am glad the error on the article was fixed.

  • larkwoodgirl

    They need another major player in the music business to fill Simon’s spot. Someone who is on the business side of the coin and not a performer. Simon was on the business side of things, that was what gave him such a unique perspective on things. I think maybe someone like Benny Medina, Clive Davis (too old) or someone of the ilk would be a better choice.

    • Lisa

      Tommy Mottola or another producer of his type.

      • TMRZoo Neil

        I thought Mottola would have been an excellent choice. He clearly knows talent, and he knows the music business. It would have lent some actual credence and been a perfect offset to the rest of the lunatics on the panel.
        That aside, my other choices would be: Harry Connick, Jr, Justin Timberlake, or Neil Patrick Harris. Any of the three would be welcome additions and would only make the show and the contestants better.

      • Angelina


  • CB

    From the past couple of seasons, the judges don’t really matter, anyway. AI has become a tween popularity contest, making “talent” secondary.

    • Mac

      Exactly. Limit the voting to 1-5 times. Lee Dewyze as last year’s winner was embarrassing. The tween girls ruin the voting. It’s not like they wouldn’t watch if they were limited to 1-5 votes anyways…

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t think it should be an artist, so I voted for Nigel. I just started watching SYTYCD and he’s the person I most associate with because I’m not a dancer. Same goes with the panel now: Ellen is a performer, Randy is a performer and Kara is a performer. You need a person who has a little distance – know what I mean?

    If not, I’m still wondering why a rotating seat at the table with former AI contestants hasn’t been suggested. There’s some first-hand experience in that arena that might be more valuable than the experiences of judges who didn’t have a similar path to stardom.

    • McFudge

      Um, Nigel IS a dancer. I don’t think there’s ever been a non-dancer or choreographer be a judge on SYTYCD.

    • Snsetblaze

      Interesting idea but who would you limit the rotating seat to – just any former idol contestant? Most of them are still struggling themselves – not all had lucrative record deals or released hit records. Or do you limit it to the winners. I’m not sure that most would even make good mentors as most are still new to the business (although I did think Adam Lambert worked as a mentor but I’m guessing he would be one of the few that does.)

    • Abby

      I agree with you Elizabeth. I like the idea of a rotating seat of previous AI contestants. I’d pick the contestants that have done at least fairly well. Here’s my list: Kelly Clarkson, Bo Bice, Fantasia, Clay Aiken, Rueben Studdard (I’d just like to see him there), Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee, Daughtry, Elliot Yamin, Jordin Sparks, Melinda Doolittle, Blake Lewis, David Cook, David Archuleta (can you imagine how adorable he would be??), Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, and Allison Iraheta (she’d be fun to watch – if maybe a bit too young).

  • koker

    i liked kara this season

    • Brianna


  • Media Ho

    David Foster. Songwriter, producer, arranger, discoverer of talent (Josh Groban, etc.), and a mentor a few seasons back. Witty and snarky, this guy has all the cred that would make him the best replacement for Simon. Too bad about the multi-year deal for Ellen. She IS the weakest link!

    • jazzy

      RE: David Foster, BRILLIANT!

    • Ang

      Thank you…. I was trying to recall David’s name. He would be perfect on this show!!

  • All Powerful

    They need an up and coming music insider… someone who thinks outside the box and understand the current music landscape with YouTube, facebook, MySpace (blah), etc. A no name is better than a big name in my eyes!

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