The new American Idol judges are Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson. Idol host Ryan Seacrest announced the new panel Wednesday (Sept. 22) during a media event at The Forum, home of the Los Angeles auditions for the show.
In addition, Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records and co-founder of Beats Audio, joins the show as in-house mentor.
The event was tightly choreographed with clips of each judge preceding their entrance from the back of the stage. Lopez, who was the last judge to be announced, rose up through the stage floor amid liquid smoke and lights.
The announcement comes at the ninth hour as the new panel will begin participating in the auditions that make up the early episodes of each season of Idol in the coming weeks. The makeup of the panel, with Jackson as the lone returning judge, confirms what sources told B&C last July. And while Tyler's contract was apparently completed weeks ago (on Aug. 19, Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton told the New Jersey Star Ledger that "the ink is dry on" Tyler's Idol contract), negotiations with Lopez hit a snag, say sources. The pop diva was reportedly demanding a yearly salary north of $20 million as well as a retinue of hair and makeup personnel.
Terms of Lopez's and Tyler's deals were not disclosed. But Lopez is reported to be making $12 million a year. And her Nuyorican Productions has also entered into a first-look agreement with both Twentieth Century Fox Films and Fox Broadcasting Company.
Additionally, Nigel Lythgoe has returned to Idol as an executive producer. Lythgoe left the show in 2008 citing his responsibilities on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. The dance competition show, which traditionally airs in the summer, was a critical component of a resurgent fall for Fox last season. And Lythgoe will remain on Dance as a judge and executive producer.
Lythgoe has defended Lopez publicly.
"She's a wonderful woman," Lythgoe told the syndicated show Extra recently. "I've never seen her be a diva in her life."
The highly scrutinized and drawn-out process of selecting a new judging panel for television's top-rated show began more than a year ago when Cowell announced in the summer of 2009 that last season's Idol would be his last.
A steady stream of celebrities were floated - or floated themselves - as prospective replacements for Cowell: Jamie Foxx, Harry Connick, Jr., Shania Twain, Jessica Simpson, Sean Combs, Justin Timberlake.
Meanwhile last season's four-judge panel of Cowell, Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi , which was widely criticized for being clunky and lacking chemistry, began to (officially) shed judges back in July when DeGeneres announced that she would step down. DeGeneres, who spent one season on Idol, cited her anxiety over criticizing young, aspiring singers as well as the demands on her time and attention that her daytime talk show consumed. Last Friday (Sept. 3), as the long Labor Day weekend yawned ahead, an announcement came that DioGuardi was also leaving the show. Both DeGeneres and DioGuardi were afforded enthusiastic praise from executives at Fox, Fremantle and 19 Entertainment. And Peter Rice, chairman of Fox Networks Group told members of the media gathered at last summer's Television Critic's Association press tour, that he tried to talk DeGeneres into staying.
"I personally think she was great on the show last year," said Rice. "We would have preferred she had stayed."
Idol is still television's most dominant by a wide margin, but it has experienced inevitable ratings erosion as it has aged. Last year's season, the show's ninth, was down about 9% year-to-year averaging 25.2 million viewers for Tuesday's performance show and 23.6 million for Wednesday's results show.
But Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting Company, told reporters last month that he expected Idol to retain its dominance next season regardless of any perceived vulnerability amid the shakeup of the judges' panel.
"We slice and dice the numbers every which way and there's an awful lot of wiggle room," he said referring to the still-comfortable margin that Idol enjoys over its closest competitors.
Nevertheless, ABC's Dancing with the Stars could once again be a formidable contender for Idol. Last spring's iteration of DWTS - which featured Pamela Anderson and Kate Gosselin - had its highest-rated season ever finishing as TV's most-watched series six out of its 10 weeks and becoming the first regular series to top Idol in 5 years.
This fall, the show's cast also includes a couple of media sensations: Bristol Palin, the daughter of erstwhile Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Jersey Shore's Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino. If DWTS can maintain its momentum, it may once again be a contender come spring when it will go head-to-head with Idol.