Pop Culture

Fire the stars! 'American Idol' alumni who'd make great judges

Kevin Winter / Today

“American Idol” is possibly considering replacing all four judges with former contestants? If the idea seems far-fetched, that’s because it's a really good idea for a show that has had very little of those in recent years.

It makes perfect sense to re-energize the fan base by bringing back old favorites instead of throwing millions upon millions of dollars at big names with questionable appeal and no ties to the show. If viewers aren’t going to fall in love with Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and this season, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, is replacing them with other flashy entertainers really going to work? (Although a panel of Taylor Swift, a couple of her exes and Kanye West might get the job done -- but not for the right reasons.)

Fill the panel with past contestants who can fill four specific roles, and the show’s 13th season might be lucky after all:

1. The former champion
Top choice: Kelly Clarkson

“Idol” has to have a judge who has won this so they can brag about how they’ve done it before. Ideally, it should be a successful one whose very presence reminds the contestants that the winner has the potential to get much more than a confetti shower and an initial record deal of dubious value.

However, this approach works best if only one champion makes the cut, and who better than the original winner who has become a bona fide superstar? Kelly Clarkson is still the “Idol” standard to which everyone aspires (unless their goal is to become an actress, in which case “From Justin to Kelly” still stings). She's also had mentor roles on “The Voice” and “Duets.” Kelly might cost a lot, but she’d be worth the price.

Other options: Carrie Underwood would also fit, but given her image, can anyone really see her being anything but supportive to every contestant? Probably not, and that’s boring TV. (Dahling, that'd be like inviting J.Lo or Mariah back.) Jordin Sparks is great on camera, but doesn’t yet have the same stature.

2. The challenger
Top choice: Jennifer Hudson

As season 12 of “Idol” showed, it’s mighty dull when the voters get it right every week and the best singers make it to the end. Bringing back someone who thought they were unfairly denied the championship will add an edge the show has lacked since Simon Cowell started getting bored and began watching himself in the monitor instead of the stage.

Jennifer Hudson is by far the best choice. She’s another legitimate superstar, but one who came in seventh place in a weak season three and thinks she was unfairly criticized during her time on the “Idol”stage. Her talent can’t be argued (hello, Academy Award!), and her personality is ideally suited to this because she won’t back down when challenged. Fans might actually get a panel where judges disagree!

Other options: If you can’t get her – and it’s bad if you can’t – Chris Daughtry is next in line.

3. The comic relief
Top choice: Kellie Pickler

“American Idol” is, as they say, a singing competition. But it’s also supposed to be fun. The performers might live and die with every solo, but it would be nice to have a judge who looked like they were having a great time in a way that did not involve dressing in silly costumes and faking a British accent (looking at you here, Nicki). And if they don’t mind being teased, so much the better. Paula Abdul was successful in part because she knew her role and played along with the banter very well.

From Kellie's first days on the show, no singer has intuitively understood how to market herself better than the country crooner. Yeah, yeah, she plays the role of the country girl out of her element in the big city very well, but she’s got skills at building her brand and managing her career that would be the envy of any New York firm. She just won “Dancing With The Stars,” so she’s got the recognition that comes with that, and she brings a sizable fan base that clearly is used to picking up their phones and voting.

Other options: This is a tough one. Is Casey Abrams too recent? Does anyone remember Matt Rogers? Would Taylor Hicks lash out after being joked about? (His fans certainly do.) You couldn’t put Justin Guarini on the panel with Kelly -- too many movie references.

4. The realist
Top choice: Adam Lambert

This is the hardest spot on the panel to fill, but especially if Jennifer Hudson turns her role down, it may be the most critical to the show’s entertainment value. “Idol” is full of nice contestants saying nice things, which is not a surprise considering the point is to make people like you. But it’s a really boring show when everyone thinks the entire top 10 is destined for stardom.

“Idol” needs a judge who will say how far everyone really is from getting to their goals. It also needs someone who is willing to contradict the other judges and add some snark. Adam Lambert has been nothing but supportive in his returns to the show, but he’s also shown a willingness to challenge conventions and stand up for himself. He doesn’t seem like a guy who minds being booed, which would be a rare commodity these days.

Other options: Clay Aiken is another really good fit here. Or how about someone like Haley Reinhart, who seemed to get slammed every week in season 10 and still finished in third place?

Which "Idol" alumni would you like to see return as judges? Click on "Talk about it" below and share your thoughts!