Now, not only does Fox have to replace Simon Cowell, but Ellen DeGeneres is also leaving “American Idol.” After only one year, DeGeneres has called it quits.
“A couple months ago, I let Fox and the American Idol producers know that this didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” DeGeneres said in a statement late Thursday. “I told them I wouldn’t leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings. I loved the experience working on Idol and I am very grateful for the year I had. I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be.”
DeGeneres is leaving behind a reported $10 million a year for, as described by Howard Stern, “judging a karaoke contest,” but the time commitment for Idol, the #1 show on television, includes traveling across the country for long days listening to auditions. And DeGeneres has a daily TV talk show of her own to worry about. That could be even more important in the coming year as the Queen of Daytime Television, Oprah Winfrey, exits and leaves the throne up for grabs.
“We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of Idol. We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show,” said Peter Rice, Chairman of Entertainment, Fox Networks Group.
Despite that upbeat comment, the two departing judges, Cowell and DeGeneres, have more public name recognition than the two remaining, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi. So Fox faces serious challenges filling those spots moving into Season 10.
“It was a joy to work with Ellen,” added Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company. “She brought an incredible spirit to Idol and was a great new addition to the team. While we’re saddened by her decision, we are very appreciative that she gave us ample notice so that we could work through it together.”
“I loved Ellen’s passion for the artists and her nurturing skills. She brought honesty and optimism to our judging panel and I will miss her greatly,” said Idol creator and executive producer Simon Fuller.
“We will miss Ellen, she has been the consummate professional throughout her time on the show, and she’ll always be part of the American Idol family,” added Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Idol executive producer.
So, all of the happy statements have been issued, but now it’s down to figuring out how to keep the hit television show on track.
American Idol is created and executive-produced by Simon Fuller, founder of 19 Entertainment; and executive-produced by Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO, FremantleMedia North America, Inc. and Ken Warwick, Executive Producer, FremantleMedia North America, Inc.
RBR-TVBR observation: There was plenty of criticism of DeGeneres, to be sure, for being too nice and the judge with the least experience in the music business, which is to say none at all. Nevertheless, she was a big name. Picking an audience-friendly replacement for her will be all the more important because Idol’s producers are already in the midst of having to replace the judge most identified with the show, Simon Cowell.