LOS ANGELES – Here come the “American Idol” judges.
Keith Urban will be the sole returning judge from last season’s panel that rated the talent on the Fox show. He’ll be joined by “Idol” hanger-on Jennifer Lopez, who had been a judge on the series in 2011 and 2012 and returned as a guest performer last season, and by former “Idol” mentor Harry Connick Jr., whom the Hollywood Reporter identified as the third member of the jury over the weekend.
The lineup change in the storied franchise follows the exits of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj in the wake of sluggish ratings last season. The casting of judges, which can cost a pretty penny when top-tier talent is involved, seemed especially erratic for the coming season; at one point, it appeared Fox would recruit former “Idol” winners as judges, with Jennifer Hudson mentioned as one possibility. Other names being tossed around included will.i.am. and Dr. Luke.
Fox opted to go in this direction. And it’s keeping the big dawg on campus. Randy Jackson, who announced earlier this year that he would not be returning as a judge, will still lend a helping hand, serving as an in-house mentor.
Kevin Reilly, the network’s chairman of entertainment, issued the following statement:
“ ‘American Idol’ has always been about discovering the next singing superstar, and next season our judging panel will deliver a most impressive combination of talent, wisdom and personality to do just that: Jennifer Lopez, the triple-threat global superstar who loves and whom ‘Idol’ fans love; Harry Connick Jr., a bona fide musical genius and fantastic ‘Idol’ mentor whose honesty and expertise can help turn these hopefuls into stars; Keith Urban, a multi-Grammy-winning artist who was such a positive force on the show last season. We are also very excited to have our friend Randy Jackson now in a new role as mentor, and the captain of our team – the heart and soul of ‘Idol’ – Ryan Seacrest returning as host.”
The show also experienced some behind-the-scenes turnover. Fox reality head Mike Darnell, who oversaw the “Idol” beast, left the network. And longtime “Idol” executive producers Nigel Lythogoe and Ken Warwick also departed.
Time will tell whether the nearly head-to-toe recalibration can reinvigorate the aging reality singing competition series, which, despite its ratings lows, is still a force.
The judges begin production on the coming season, dubbed in Super Bowl-style as “American Idol XIII,” today. The season begins in January.