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Image: Kara DioGuardi, Randy Jackson
Chris Pizzello  /  AP file
Later, Kara! DioGuardi is rumored to be out as "Idol" judge, leaving Randy Jackson as the lone judge who hasn't announced he's quitting or have stories circulate about him getting fired.
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updated 8/5/2010 3:12:53 PM ET 2010-08-05T19:12:53

Don't call it "American Idol." Call it "Extreme Makeover: 'Idol' Edition."

The composition of the "Idol" judges' panel seems to be changing by the minute, in flux like a lunch counter during the noon rush.

Everyone but Larry King and Kate Gosselin is rumored as a candidate to replace tart-tongued Simon Cowell (out the door to create his own talent competition), Ellen DeGeneres and who knows who else.

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The only guarantees left on "Idol" are off-key contestants, host Ryan Seacrest (peerless as a combination maitre d' and traffic cop) and all those conspicuous glasses of Coke.

Even the ratings — while still gigantic — are no longer on the upswing. The audience for "Idol" has lately been sliding, which, of course, is what the makeover is meant to arrest.

So who will actually populate the judge's panel when "Idol" returns on Fox for its 10th season next January?

An abrupt announcement went out Thursday that DeGeneres was calling it quits. This, after Fox had breathlessly announced signing the popular comedian-talk show host last October to replace dizzy Paula Abdul, a charter "Idol" judge who is planning yet another talent tourney.

"Idol" wasn't "the right fit," DeGeneres explained, while reports surfaced that singer-dancer-actor Jennifer Lopez is game to see if "Idol" fits her.

Meanwhile, other reports proposed that time had run out for singer-songwriter Kara DioGuardi. Brought on board two seasons ago when the panel of judges was expanded from three to four, she has always seemed no more knowledgeable than she is expendable. (If these were the Marx Brothers, she would be Chico.)

No word on the prospects for affably bland Randy ("dawwwg!") Jackson, who is currently the only remaining original. Who knows? Maybe "Idol" producers will decide to go another way and replace him with Mel Gibson.

But seriously, folks: Other names that continue to be bandied about include pillow-lipped Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and indomitable rocker (and "Celebrity Apprentice" champ) Bret Michaels. But wait, there's more! Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, Elton John, Chris Isaak, Howard Stern and Harry Connick Jr. — they've all been mentioned, too.

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Adding to the uncertainty: It is far from clear whether Fox will retain a four-member panel, or trim the number back to three. (Or, as a move to restore some of the show's diminished authority, "Idol" producers might opt to further boost the number of judges to nine, mirroring the U.S. Supreme Court. You heard that here first.)

The truth is likely to be revealed by Monday, when Fox presents its 2010-11 programs to a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills. Then the world can get a good night's sleep.

While the stars who occupy the judges' table next season won't have quite the juice of, say, Supreme Court justices, nor is the gravity of filling vacancies at the same level, the pressure on "Idol" producers is enormous to pick the right people.

As a financial gold mine and cultural rallying point, "Idol" can hardly be overstated. Now the challenge looms to reinvent and refresh the show whose ninth-season finale drew nearly 5 million viewers less than the year before. (Not that 24.2 million viewers is chicken feed.)

Key to the future dominance of "Idol" is its panel of judges and the chemistry they share. For years, the chemistry was perfect among Cowell, Jackson and Abdul.

Can the "Idol" producers repeat that miracle next season? Or, in trying to fix the show, will they end up breaking it?

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Vote: Who would make a good 'Idol' judge?

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.

    ROBACH: OK.

    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.

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