Close watchers of the show say they saw this ‘difficult decision’ coming.By Gil Kaufman
“American Idol” season nine judges
Photo: Michael Becker/ FOX
Ellen DeGeneres was the first to admit that her first, and as it turns out, last, season on “American Idol” was not smooth sailing. In the statement announcing her departure from the show, the daytime talk queen and veteran comedienne copped to feeling uncomfortable criticizing young singers. “It was a difficult decision to make,” DeGeneres said, “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.”
MTV News reached out to its panel of “Idol” experts for reaction on Friday (July 30), and each member said they were not shocked that DeGeneres pulled the ripcord on her three-year contract.
“I’ve been hearing the rumor for a long time, so I wasn’t surprised,”
said Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jessica Shaw. “She started off very strong and was critical and fun and was some much needed new energy on the show. But as the season progressed, she got more and more stale. I think people thought she wouldn’t add that much to next season.”
Whether DeGeneres jumped or was pushed, Shaw said she left the show in a very classy way that just enhances her image as the daytime queen of nice.
MJ Santilli, who runs the “Idol” fansite MJ’s Big Blog, admitted that she initially expected DeGeneres to be back for a second season, but after going back and watching season nine she can see why Ellen opted out.
“She just always seemed like the outcast that didn’t fit in and didn’t seem comfortable giving critiques,” said Santilli, who was pulling for DeGeneres after having initial misgivings. “I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt when [her hiring] was first announced, because she was such a likable person. During Hollywood week they edited her very well and she seemed funny, but during the live shows it got worse and worse. What she said was often of little value, her jokes were stale and the more I looked back on it the more uncomfortable it was. I could understand why she’d be ready to bail by the end of the season.”
Santilli’s low point was when DeGeneres broke the show’s etiquette and rushed on stage to give Teflon singer Tim Urban a hug after one of his many mediocre performances, a move that likely saved Urban and pushed out more beloved singer Alex Lambert. “That was the epitome of why she sucked as a judge,” said Santilli.
Throughout the season, Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University and longtime “Idol” watcher, was pulling for DeGeneres. But he was left wondering why someone with more than two decades of performing experience could not seem to get it together.
“She’s a gifted comic actress, but when she got into the judge’s seat none of her talents came out and she didn’t belong there,” said Thompson, who thought it was best for the show that DeGeneres bowed out. “Her presence on the panel was not working at all.”
The trick now, he said, is to find that elusive chemistry that will work in the absence of both DeGeneres and departed lead judge Simon Cowell — as well as the possible absence of Kara DioGuardi, who has reportedly been let go.
Rumors that singer Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler are in line to join the panel have surfaced, but Thompson noted that finding the right mix of judges will be tricky.
“Ellen’s the perfect example,” he said. “She’s someone you thought would be good because she’s so good on her talk show, but she was uncomfortable. So it’s not only how they perform, but also the chemistry of all of them together. You don’t know how two chemicals will react until you put them in a beaker and see if they explode.”
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