Sonya Sorich: Who will fill the 'American Idol' judges' panel?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 17, 2012 

Let's call the whole thing off.

That's how many "American Idol" fans felt last week, when Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler announced they're leaving the "Idol" judges' panel. Now, "Idol" is down to just one returning judge -- Randy Jackson -- and some Internet rumors suggest he'll be pushed out of the show.

The news is tough to digest, so I'm not surprised if you've suggested "Idol" should cancel its upcoming 12th season.

That's not going to happen. Auditions are already under way. Plus, "Idol" judges have little to no bearing on the success and marketability of the show's winners. Many people hail Simon Cowell as the Ultimate "Idol" judge, but his reign didn't exactly produce a perfect chain of superstars.

Going into the show's 12th season, the biggest problem with "Idol" is the predictability that's grown to characterize its winners. That's a result of the show's voting viewers -- not its judges.

Nonetheless, a coherent panel of "Idol" judges is always a plus, and I can't resist an urge to give some input regarding the selection process. Here's how I'd answer some of the most common questions about the new panel.

Three judges or four? I'd definitely stick with three judges. When "Idol" had four judges, the feedback consumed air time that could've been devoted to the contestants.

Randy Jackson or not? This is a tough one. On one hand, keeping the "dawg" would give "Idol" a sense of consistency -- a link between the current season and the Kelly Clarkson days. Also, he could be helpful in guiding new judges.

On the other hand, I can't imagine Randy's presence -- or lack thereof -- having a huge impact on ratings. He's just sort of, um, there. Final verdict: ditch him.

Celebrities or industry insiders? Name a thoughtful, potentially divisive critique that came from Steven Tyler or Jennifer Lopez. Stumped? I'm not surprised. You'd probably have the same problem if I posed a similar question about Ellen DeGeneres' stint as an "Idol" judge.

Asking celebrities to judge "Idol" is a double-edged sword. The name recognition is a bonus, but celebs who are still putting out music or appearing on TV have to worry about alienating their fan bases. They're afraid to say anything too controversial, which is why we're often left with a season packed with "beautiful" critiques.

My dream panel? Industry leader/"Idol" mentor Jimmy Iovine, "Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken and singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, is at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516.

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