Rub your eyes if you must, but Ellen DeGeneres was named the fourth judge on “American Idol” Wednesday night.
That’s right. Ellen. You can stop rubbing now.
In a statement released by the show, DeGeneres said, “I’m thrilled to be the new judge on ‘American Idol.’ I’ve watched since the beginning, and I’ve always been a huge fan. So getting this job is a dream come true, and think of all the money I’ll save from not having to text in my vote.”
Yes, a shock. A reasonably large one. Now let the guessing game begin: Will this move work? Why Ellen? Why not? (Or, well, YOU name a name.)
DeGeneres just launched the seventh season of her daytime show Tuesday, and for those wondering whether it’s possible to host both “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and work as a judge on “Idol,” wonder no longer. In fact, she will miss the audition process, ongoing at this moment, and join the judges’ panel in January, when the ninth season launches. For auditions, Fox has employed guest judges, including Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Kristin Chenoweth, Joe Jonas, Neil Patrick Harris, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Shania Twain.
A person close to the show said “she did not do the auditions, was not part of the auditions at all.” And what of the chemistry with Randy, Simon and — until now, the lone female, Kara? “It’s something producers and everyone else going forward” won’t be able to see until the live portion of TV’s top-rated show begins in January.
An industry source Wednesday night said the hire “was an opportunity to bring a personality to the show who has a pretty loyal following and is well-liked ... And as long as we’re moving on from Paula (Abdul, who quit the show in July) then we can bring a different platform to the show.” But this person added, “at the end of the day, the judges don’t determine the next ‘American Idol’ — the viewers do — but she’s obviously excited about it ... This was a mutual thing.”
How long Fox and DeGeneres have been talking is for now a mystery, but the network in all likelihood began discussing Abdul replacements long before the July implosion. But a good choice, or a logical one? One source says Kara DioGuardi will add an industry voice-of-experience style (viewers saw a bit of that last season) while DeGeneres’ role will be lighter — as comic, or, like Abdul, a supportive voice, too.
And this question: Will DeGeneres fill a void that hardcore Paula fans (seriously) say is unfillable?
On her show, airing Thursday, she said: “I’m not leaving here. Don’t worry about that. I’m going to have a day job and a night job. The times we’re living ... in we’re all doing that. This is so exciting for me. We’ve been dealing with this for the last couple of weeks and I’ve been dying to tell everyone. It’s just been so hard to keep it a secret and we just finally got the OK and I’m so excited. It is going to be so much fun. I don’t know how it happened myself but I have not missed one episode of that show. I’ve watched every single thing.
“I love everything about it and I love music, as you know. Hopefully I’m the people’s point of view because I’m just like you. I sit at home and I watch it and I don’t have that technical ... I’m not looking at it in a critical way from the producer’s mind. I’m looking at it as a person who is going to buy the music and is going to relate to that person. So I’m hopefully going to be that voice of what we’re all doing at home.”
Mike Darnell, Fox reality boss, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to have Ellen DeGeneres join the ... judges’ table this season. She is truly one of America’s funniest people and a fantastic performer who understands what it’s like to stand up in front of audiences and entertain them every day. We feel that her vast entertainment experience – combined with her quick wit and passion for20music — will add a fresh new energy to the show.”
An interesting choice? Maybe a better word is “astounding.” She is, of course, openly gay, was one of network television’s first major talents to actually star in a sitcom — and a very good one — about her openly gay life, for ABC. (She also was famously angered by the way the network treated “Ellen,” dropped in 1998. Another sitcom ran briefly on CBS in 2001-2.) She was, and remains, a favorite awards show host — notably the 79th Academy Awards and the Emmys in 2005 (her third stint) — and has won a bunch of Emmys for her daytime talker.
But what, you ask, does she know about pop music? Quite a bit: Her show is, in large part, about music, albeit dance (and over the summer she finally took lessons from professionals). She’s been a guest judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” — there’s the Fox connection — and co-hosted the “Idol Gives Back” charity special that raised many millions for impoverished children in Africa.
Presumably that was the first time she met Simon Cowell although he was also a guest on her show last season. In that encounter, there was — as the saying goes — “chemistry.”
No word from Cowell in the statement on the hire, but not totally surprising — he doesn’t technically produce the show, even if he is the most important person associated with prime time’s most important program.