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Happy-Dance Time! Ellen DeGeneres Quits ‘American Idol’

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Well, it turns out that Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul aren't the only judges who've decided "American Idol" is no longer for them. Today (Thursday, July 29), single-season judge Ellen DeGeneres, who signed on in Season 9 to replace Paula, announced that she will not be returning for "Idol" Season 10.

"A couple months ago, I let Fox and the 'American Idol' producers know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me," Ellen revealed in a surprising but not exactly saddening statement. "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 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."

I have to say, I'm handling the news of Ellen's departure a whole lot easier than I took it when Paula or (especially) Simon called it quits. Hey, I'll come right out and say it: I love me some Ellen, but I will not miss her on "Idol." Her tenure on the show was ultimately a desperate ratings-chasing experiment gone awry, and I'd personally like to pretend that "AI" Season 9 never happened, like that one Bobby-less season on "Dallas" that turned out to be all just a silly dream. Come to think of it, I'd love it if Season 10 started with Victoria Principal peeling back a shower curtain to find either Paula or Simon standing there, soapy and smiling, ready to make "Idol" right again. But I digress.

Look, I admit that when it was announced last summer that Ellen would be the new "Idol" judge for Season 9, many balked, viewing this decision as such a catastrophic act of shark-jumping, even Fonzie would disapprove--but I defended Ellen. I knew she was a huge fan of "Idol," often inviting castoffs to perform on her daytime talk show, so I knew her heart was in the right place. Therefore, I gave her a chance. And I do think she tried her best, took the job seriously, occasionally offered some good comic relief (her "Yes, I have loved a woman!" and "ripening banana" lines were classic), and serviceably filled the "nice judge" role vacated by the sweet and sympathetic Paula.

But Ellen was never a music expert (despite launching her own record label later), so most of the time she was just totally out of her depth on "Idol." Her critiques added nothing of value to the show and, perhaps more importantly, offered no real help to the contestants. And most of the time, she was just way too nice. (Ellen admitted this herself in her resignation statement this week, saying: "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.")

So now, with both Ellen and Simon gone, hypothetically there are two seats up for grabs on "Idol"--unless, of course, the show goes back to its original three-judge format, which I'd personally prefer. (We all remember that when the "Idol" format was first expanded to four judges in Season 8, the added chatter during the critiques caused the live broadcasts to run overlong multiple times, much to the chagrin of viewers who'd pre-programmed their DVRs to end on the hour, or the "Bones" fans who were robbed on their favorite show's crucial opening scenes.)

But anyway, assuming that "Idol" sticks with four judges, that means even more contenders will inevitably be tossing their hats in the proverbial ring here. Everyone from Diddy to Chris Isaak, Jessica Simpson to Courtney Love, and Harry Connick Jr. to Howard Stern has already reportedly expressed interest in a high-profile, high-paying "Idol" gig, and rumored returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe was recently famously quoted as saying he'd like to fire all four judges and start fresh with an entirely new panel. (FYI, TV Guide is reporting that neither Randy Jackson nor Kara DioGuardi have set-in-stone contracts for Season 10, so Nigel may very well get his wish.)

TV Guide also reports that at Fox's Television Critics Association summer press tour presentation this coming Monday, August 2, execs may officially announce Simon Cowell's replacement. But as for Ellen? All we know right now is she's not coming back...and I have a feeling both Ellen and "Idol" viewers are doing that signature happy-dance over this development.

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