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Image: Ellen DeGeneres
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Yep. One year as an "Idol" judge was apparently enough for Ellen DeGeneres, who announced her resignation on Thursday.
TODAY contributor
updated 7/30/2010 12:17:49 AM ET 2010-07-30T04:17:49

When Ellen DeGeneres was picked to be Paula Abdul’s replacement on “American Idol” less than a year ago, it seemed like an inspired choice.

Ellen was a huge fan of the show who was a natural fit to take over as the “Nice Judge” and expand the show’s reach into the demographics of her hit daytime talk show. And as a brilliant comic with a ready supply of one-liners, she’d have the tenacity to throw elbows with Simon Cowell in a more entertaining way than Paula could manage with her rambling commentary.

But it didn’t work out quite as planned, and Ellen’s decision to exit the show after just one season is the best resolution for everyone. She’s better off returning to her status as one of the program’s biggest fans. Her exit gives “Idol” a chance to move forward with someone better, and the fans don’t have to watch her struggle to be noticed in the crowded battle for airtime.

The simple fact is that apart from her talk show, where the rejected contestants got a second chance to perform and discuss their exit after the Wednesday elimination episodes, Ellen didn’t contribute much of anything to the program. She was never very critical regardless of how poorly someone performed, but more to the point, she wasn’t even entertaining. Pushed to the background most of the time, she quickly went from being a potential game changer to a bland, forgettable figure — the Paige Miles of the judges. (Forget Paige all ready? She finished 11th last season .)

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Blame it on Ellen’s discomfort at having to criticize contestants she genuinely liked, which is the reason she gives for leaving. Blame it on the lack of chemistry between her and the other judges, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi. But mostly, blame it on the fact that she never seemed to be confident enough to display the wit and creativity she shows in her other creative endeavors.

As a big fan of everything else she does, that was the biggest disappointment for me. I thought she’d be the judge who could balance out Simon’s sarcasm with some cutting retorts that put him in his place — and Lord knows, Simon’s ego could have used the hit.

Instead, she seemed eager to fit in and largely unwilling to ruffle feathers. Unfortunately, that didn’t lead to a great dynamic with the other three judges. She acted more like a fan than a peer, stepping on few toes and failing to carve out a niche for herself.

That seemed to get worse over time as she repeated some of the same jokes that didn’t even get a laugh the first time around (“I’m going to boo myself,” for starters) and mimicked the language of the other judges. When she started to use “pitchy” in her comments, that was probably a sign that she was struggling to think of things to say.

As a result, she was the fourth wheel in a three-person party, with Randy, Kara and Simon doing their own thing and just sort of tolerating the interloper. It often seemed like she was waiting for the other judges and host Ryan Seacrest to set her up to shine, but if that was the case, it was a fruitless hope. Nobody on “American Idol” is very good at voluntarily ceding the spotlight.

Contrast that to how Kara acted when she joined the show two seasons ago. Her job was actually more challenging, as she was tacked onto a three-person team that, apart from the occasional guest judge, had worked alone since “Idol” began. But she crashed the party, forced her way into the conversation, and wound up carving out a role for herself in the crowded panel.

Of course, Kara also found it easier to be critical, which generates a reaction in a way that tepid praise never does. The big reason that Simon was so popular in his nine seasons as an “Idol” judge was that he was viciously entertaining. His memorable comments are the ones where he compared faltering hopefuls to cats falling out of windows, not the statements that ended with “well done.”

It’s probably a credit to Ellen that she was unwilling to be cruel to the young men and women who put everything they had on the line each week, sometimes having to sing songs well out of their comfort zones, the way that the other three on the panel can do with relish. That is the nicer and more fair way of responding, but it sure is dull.

Fans and executives could have forgiven a lot of shortcomings if Ellen had been more entertaining (indeed, they did so with Paula for years). But she wasn’t, and she wasn’t happy or comfortable with herself in her attempts, so it’s best for everyone that this experiment ended after just one season.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @craigberman.

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Discuss: Where did Ellen go wrong?

Writer Craig Berman thinks DeGeneres just wasn't critical enough and never managed to make a spot for herself on the panel. What do you think were her biggest failings as a judge?

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Video: Who will replace Ellen on ‘Idol’? J.Lo?

  1. Transcript of: Who will replace Ellen on ‘Idol’? J.Lo?

    AMY ROBACH, anchor: Some big news from the hit show " American Idol " last night, Ellen DeGeneres is quitting after only one season as judge and there are reports this morning that Kara is also out. Anne Marie Cruz is the staff editor at People magazine , which first broke the news about Ellen . Anne Marie , good morning.

    Ms. ANNE MARIE CRUZ (Staff Editor, People Magazine): Good morning.

    ROBACH: So this sounds like a huge overhaul, there's lots of rumors swirling around about the judges' panel, it seems like they've kind of cleaned slate, so to speak. Why is Ellen DeGeneres leaving after just one short season? We had heard that she had signed a multi-year deal prior to this.

    Ms. CRUZ: Mm-hmm. Yes. She felt that she was not a good fit, especially since she was so uncomfortable with judging other people and making them potentially feel bad. Plus, she said that having a day job and a night job was a little too much for her.

    ROBACH: Yet there are some reports that she was perhaps forced out...

    Ms. CRUZ: Mm-hmm.

    ROBACH: ...and that the producers were already looking to overhaul the judges' table with Simon leaving.

    Ms. CRUZ: Right.

    ROBACH: Any truth to that?

    Ms. CRUZ: That's not something that I can comment on, but in terms of her sensing that people were not entirely happy with her performance, I think that's probably a big factor in her decision.

    ROBACH: Right. She released a statement to People magazine ...

    Ms. CRUZ: Yes.

    ROBACH: ...saying she let Fox and the "Idol" producers know that, as you mentioned, "this didn't feel like the right fit me" a couple of months ago.

    Ms. CRUZ: Right.

    ROBACH: But that she'd wait to leave the show until the producers figured out where they wanted to take the panel next.

    Ms. CRUZ: Mm-hmm.

    ROBACH: So if we can go ahead by those words and say...

    Ms. CRUZ: Yeah.

    ROBACH: ...well, she said she's out, that must mean that the producers know who they want in her place.

    Ms. CRUZ: Right. It's an interesting turn of phrase. And that's -- it really does fit in with what we've heard from a couple of sources that Jennifer Lopez is definitely going to be a permanent judge. So Fox isn't talking about it, but we have different -- we have two different sources saying that.

    ROBACH: All right. So it's not -- so it could be a done deal or...

    Ms. CRUZ: Yes, it could be.

    ROBACH: You think it probably is. OK.

    Ms. CRUZ: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I mean, she's perfect.

    ROBACH: She would be.

    Ms. CRUZ: Like, she would bring a sexy element to a show that hasn't had sexy in a while, I think.

    ROBACH: OK. Well, as we mentioned earlier, Ellen not the only judge stepping down, we know obviously that Simon Cowell ...

    Ms. CRUZ: That's correct.

    ROBACH: ...is leaving, too, but we haven't heard who his replacement may be...

    Ms. CRUZ: Mm-hmm.

    ROBACH: ...although there are some names are floating around, Justin Timberlake has been mentioned...

    Ms. CRUZ: Mm-hmm.

    ROBACH: ... Steven Tyler has been mentioned...

    Ms. CRUZ: Right. Right, right.

    ROBACH: ... Elton John even.

    Ms. CRUZ: Yeah.

    ROBACH: What are you hearing?

    Ms. CRUZ: I mean, that's a reality show in itself, right?

    ROBACH: Right.

    Ms. CRUZ: Well, we actually heard that Justin was not ever discussed in terms of his rep talking to us. But also there is Jessica Simpson and Usher.

    ROBACH: Hm.

    Ms. CRUZ: And these are just names that are being thrown out as dream candidates.


    Ms. CRUZ: But when you have J.Lo , I mean, that's a great start.

    ROBACH: Yeah, who else do you need, right?

    Ms. CRUZ: Yeah.

    ROBACH: So -- and so that leaves Kara and Randy .

    Ms. CRUZ: Mm-hmm.

    ROBACH: And now there are rumors that Kara may be leaving.

    Ms. CRUZ: Yes. That's unconfirmed, but with Nigel Lythgoe , who is the former executive producer of the show, possibly coming back, he had said last year that he wanted to clean slate ...

    ROBACH: Hm.

    Ms. CRUZ: ...and, you know, get a whole bunch of new judges if Simon left, so.

    ROBACH: All right. So what would you think about a Randy Jackson , J.Lo , Steven Tyler of Aerosmith trio of judges? How do you think that would do?

    Ms. CRUZ: I think that would be amazing. I mean, what a great way to start off a whole new era for the 10th season of the show. You have -- I think Randy and J.Lo would have an amazing chemistry. And then you have Steven Tyler who's sort of the X-factor . I mean...

    ROBACH: Yeah. Let's see if he can be like Simon or not.

    Ms. CRUZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    ROBACH: I think we need one of those cutting-edge judges to carry it over.

Photos: Ellen DeGeneres

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  1. Lucky 13

    TV personality Ellen DeGeneres poses with her 13th award for favorite daytime TV host for during the 39th Annual People's Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Jan. 9, 2013. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Look who's 'Friends'!

    DeGeneres, right, poses with her wife Portia DeGeneres, left, and actress Jennifer Aniston backstage at the 39th Annual People's Choice Awards on Jan. 9, 2013. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Curves ahead

    DeGeneres, left, reveals her Halloween costume in the likeness of actress Sofia Vergara during the taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in Burbank, Calif., on Oct. 30, 2012. (Michael Rozman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Queen of comedy

    DeGeneres smiles as her family and friends, including wife Portia DeGeneres, left), applaud her entrance at the Mark Twain Prize ceremony in Washington, DC, on Oct. 22, 2012. DeGeneres is the 15th recipient of the prize for humor, joining recent past honorees Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Steve Martin and George Carlin. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Her place in Hollywood

    DeGeneres gives a thumbs up as she is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 4, 2012. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. GLAAD to have her

    DeGeneres speaks onstage at the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards presented by Ketel One and Wells Fargo at Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles on April 21, 2012. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 98 ... 99 ...

    DeGeneres, left, challenges first lady Michelle Obama to a push up contest during a taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in Burbank, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2012. (Michael Rozman / Warner Bros. via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cowabunga, Ellen!

    DeGeneres accepts the Choice Comedian award onstage during the 2011 Teen Choice Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif., on Aug. 7, 2011. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The people have spoken

    DeGeneres, winner of Favorite Daytime TV Host, speaks onstage at the 2012 People's Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Jan. 11, 2012. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Top model?

    Degeneres walks the runway at the Richie Rich Spring 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center in New York on Sept. 9, 2010. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tongues are wagging

    DeGeneres attends the Postal Service dedication of a new Animal Rescue: Adopt a Shelter Pet stamp at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood, Calif., on April 30, 2010. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Joining the 'Idols'

    When Paula Abdul balked at returning to "American Idol," an opportunity arose for DeGeneres, a longtime music lover, to join the show. She joined Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, and host Ryan Seacrest on the hit Fox singing compeition. (FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The people's choice

    DeGeneres collected the People's Choice award for favorite talk show at the 2010 awards, her 11th such award. She joked, "Oprah, I love you and I'm sorry your show got canceled." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Happy couple

    DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi attend the 36th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles on Aug. 30, 2009. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rocking the stage

    Singer Kid Rock presented DeGeneres with the favorite talk-show host award at the 2009 People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images for PCA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Really big show

    DeGeneres performs during ''Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show'' during The Comedy Festival at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Nov. 20, 2008. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Getting a leg up

    DeGeneres, center, even joined a kickline of dancers during the taping of "Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show." (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Two brides

    DeGeneres poses with actress Portia de Rossi, right, on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008, after the couple exchanged wedding vows in an intimate ceremony at their Beverly Hills, Calif., home. (Jay L. Clendenin / Lara Porzak Photography via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. For me??

    Actor Jake Gyllenhaal presents DeGeneres with 400 white roses to celebrate the 400th episode of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" on Nov. 9, 2005. (Warner Bros. via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Citizen Ellen

    A man waits for a bus in New York across the street from a huge banner of DeGeneres urging citizens to vote in the 2004 presidential election. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Do a little dance ...

    Justin Timberlake, left, makes a surprise appearance during a special taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in Burbank, Calif., on Thursday, May 27, 2004. As DeGeneres danced her way to her chair after completing her monologue, Timberlake made his entrance. (Telepictures Productions via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Daytime queen

    DeGeneres holds her prize after winning the award for outstanding talk show at the 31st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in New York on Friday, May 21, 2004. (Tina Fineberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Golden night

    DeGeneres attended the Golden Globe Awards with Alexandra Hedison on Jan. 25, 2004. (Giulio Marcocchi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Booking it

    DeGeneres appeared at a West Hollywood, Calif., book store to sign copies of her book "Ellen DeGeneres: The Funny Thing Is" in October 2003. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Fish tale

    DeGeneres gave voice to Dory, a Regal Blue Tang fish with bad short-term memory and a big heart, in the 2003 animated smash "Finding Nemo." (Walt Disney Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Dressed for the occasion

    DeGeneres lampooned the dress worn by Bjork at the 2001 Academy Awards when the comedian hosted the 2001 Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Live, from New York

    DeGeneres plants one on Chris Kattan's goofy Mango character during a taping of "Saturday Night Live" on Dec. 15, 2001. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Sister Ellen

    DeGeneres played nun Sister Louise opposite Debra Messing, left, and Eric McCormack, right, in a guest appearance on "Will & Grace" in 2001. (Chris Haston / NBCU Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. 40 years of drama

    DeGeneres starred in and co-produced "If These Walls Could Talk 2," an HBO drama set in one house and spanning nearly 40 years, but featuring different lesbian occupants. In this segment, she played Kal, who is trying to have a baby with her lover Fran (Sharon Stone, left). Ann Heche, right, directed the segment. (HBO via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Long arm of the law

    DeGeneres played Sgt. Rita Pompano in the 1999 thriller "Goodbye Lover." (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Turn on the TV

    DeGeneres starred as a reality TV producer in the 1999 comedy "EDtv." (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Walking the red carpet

    DeGeneres brought her mother, right, and then-girlfriend Anne Heche, left, to the 1997 Emmy Awards. DeGeneres was nominated for best actress in a comedy series and best comedy writing. She took home the writing prize. (Kim Kulish / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Getting it 'Wrong'

    DeGeneres starred opposite Bill Pullman in the comedy "Mr. Wrong" in 1996. The film was largely panned by the critics. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. TV star

    DeGeneres starred in her own sitcom called "Ellen" from 1994-98. Her co-stars included David Anthony Higgins, left, and Clea Lewis. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Alone in the spotlight

    DeGeneres began her career as a stand-up comedian. Among her early performances was a 1992 showcase on HBO called "One Night Stand." (HBO via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. When mullets were cool

    Early in her career, in 1987, DeGeneres made an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," a dream launching pad for any ambitious comic. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
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