The New Kingmaker

June 3, 2010


Now that American Idol has reached yet another finale where some boring white guy with an acoustic guitar wins, we can focus on the news that Simon Cowell is leaving the show, presumably going off to start an American version of X-Factor or something.

Of course, Fox will not just let American Idol die, despite both its loss in ratings to Dancing with the Stars and its loss two of its three original judges, one of whom is arguably the face of the program. It didn’t quit when Paula Abdul knocked off her moonbeams-and-marmalade antics before knocking off the show. It didn’t quit when the winners of some seasons were lagging in sales to runners up. The show must go on, and there must be a new judge.

On Tuesday, CNN posted a list containing probable choices (Tommy Mottola), popular picks (Bret Michaels), and longshots (Donald Trump) to replace Mr. Cowell. I think they need to spread their net a bit further, because what made Simon Cowell work as a judge was a combination of his kinda-sleazy looks, record executive experience, European origin, willingness to be mean with insults that would give the best Dirty Dozen players a run for their money, and a kind of brevity and restraint with his comments so as to make what he said count.

Here are some possibilities I would like to float:

Quentin Tarantino

Why he would work: QT has been on American Idol before both as a guest judge and as a mentor. The man is known for his impeccable music taste and experience in the entertainment industry. When he was a mentor for movie songs night on season 8, his guidance to the contestants was like a director, and I imagine that his criticisms would be similar.

Why he wouldn’t work: While it seems as though Tarantino movies come out as often as Christina Aguilera albums, I would imagine that he is very busy and wouldn’t have time to take a year off to judge a TV show, let alone several years if he is a hit. His tendency to ramble might make the show run even later than it already does and I’m tired of allocating an extra five minutes on Tivo so I can watch all of Glee, dammit!

Nigel Lythgoe

Why he would work: Nigel is an Englishman who can come off very cultured and serious which would make a smooth transition from Simon as they have similar characteristics. Nigel also had a hand in shaping American Idol, as a developer/producer of the original UK Pop Idol and a producer of American Idol until 2008. His demonstrated chemistry/annoyance with his fellow judges on So You Think You Can Dance means that he will be able to both banter and get angry with Randy, Ellen, and Kara’s shenanigans. He also has loads of entertainment experience as a dancer and choreographer.

Why he wouldn’t work: Besides his commitment to another show, Nigel may not possess the musical vocabulary of Simon. He isn’t quite as mean and he can be a lot more manic with his comments, which may take the judges excitability into overload. And he’s kind of a perv.

Justin Guarini

Why he would work: Sideshow Bob was a contestant back when it all began, going all the way to the finals in season 1 to ultimately lose to Kelly Clarkson, so you know he’s vocally talented. Since that final it’s been a long, strange trip for Mr. Guarini, but he’s been keeping busy. He’s also still cool with the Idol brand, having been a co-host for TV Guide’s Idol Wrap and Idol Tonight since 2007 as well as stepping out to support the opening of Disney’s The American Idol Experience attraction. Plus I doubt he’s busy.

Why he wouldn’t work: Judging tables are for winners and you, Mr. Guarini, choked in the big game. You would almost be required to leave the judges table in the final round. I mean….

Kelly Clarkson

Why she would work: The hell with Justin Guarini! In his karaoke memoir Don’t Stop Believin’, Brian Raferty writes that Kelly has a “vibrato like God’s car alarm,” so she is crazy talented. She’s gone on to massive success since breaking away from her Idol image and making hot dance pop rock. She’s also an experienced songwriter and has demonstrated the capacity for self-directed action which future contestants on the show would do well to learn. Plus, unlike the previous pick, she actually won the show, a first for an Idol judge. It would be like when Bill Rancic comes in to judge project teams on The Apprentice.

Why she wouldn’t work: Again, Ms. Clarkson didn’t really blow up until after she ditched the Idol crowd. There was a lot of back and forth between her and record exec Clive Davis and while she showed up for Simon’s farewell, there still may be some drama with the show’s handlers. Plus her active recording and touring may prevent her from judging year to year.

Linda Perry

Why she would work: While her upfront experience was limited to Four Non Blondes, her most significant successes have come from songwriting and producing. She’s written for Pink, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, and Cheap Trick and has scored a bunch of hit tracks including “Get The Party Started” and “Beautiful,” so she knows how to work with people with pipes and guitars. Her behind-the-scenes experience could be an alternate perspective to that of Kara DioGuardi.

Why she wouldn’t work: Another songwriter/producer may be too close to Kara and Randy on the experience tip. She’s been mostly out of the limelight, so it would be a risk to how telegenic she would be (then again, so was Kara and look how she turned out).


Why she would work: It would be such a coup for a talent show like Idol to score such a successful artist, performer, and entertainment icon, especially one who has worked so hard to cultivate the image she has. While mainly a pop singer, Madge has adapted her style to dance, rock, hip-hop, Broadway, and covering Don McLean, so she would be no stranger to the show’s themed covers format.

She is tough and she would not mess around with criticisms of contestants’ performances, and we need a little more mean, especially with a season as boring as season 9.

Why she wouldn’t work: Someone as famous as Madonna does not have to deal with other people’s crap, and a position as a judge on American Idol would involve dealing with a lot of crap, especially in situations when the audience keeps voting for contestants who are untalented. I imagine that her bon mots against Tim Urban would make Simon Cowell look like Daria’s Timothy O’Neill

Lil’ C

Why he would work: Anyone who has seen So You Think You Can Dance knows this krumping choreographer can give beautifully-worded feedback like no other. Plus his analogies are so unique he comes off like a deliberate version of Paula, and his lucid crazy would be a good balance to the plain earnestness of Randy.

Why he wouldn’t work: Lil C is known entirely for choreography and while that is also true for Nigel Lythgoe, at least he has production experience. He will be a better fit when the contestants have to dance as part of the weekly challenges.

Sean “Diddy” Combs

Why he would work: Diddy has built the careers of many a rapper and singer. He’s an entertainment mogul who can market himself and his Bad Boy employees with awesome effectiveness. As a producer, he built his beats on high-profile samples, so he would know what songs go with which performers. His experience on Making the Band shows that he can mold young performers who have the fire. Plus he has no sense of humor or irony and he could go totally psycho on anyone who shows weakness or failure. He would make a fantastic contrast to the humor and relative niceness of Ellen and a qualified expert once the show’s producers decide to level the playing field against the guitarists and start allowing rappers to compete.

Why he wouldn’t work: Besides the risk of storming away from the judges table on live TV, Puffy would not want to risk cannibalizing the market for his own talent show. He might last as long as Madonna would in the audition rounds. Maybe less.

Rob Halford

Why he would work: “Painkiller.” Seriously, all you people advocating for Bret Michaels to be the next judge on Idol should take a listen to this guy, one of the best singers in heavy metal, if not all of rock. Bret Michaels is nice. Rob Halford will beat your ass. Besides 20+ years with his band Judas Priest, the openly gay singer has teamed up with Trent Reznor, Pantera, and Black Sabbath, and his perspectives would open the show to contestants with a harder sound and possibly to a metal audience. Plus, as all you Rock Band players can attest, “Painkiller.”

Why he wouldn’t work: Mainly the incongruity of a guy who wrote and sang “Eat Me Alive” judging a fairly wholesome TV contest. Plus I’m not sure the Ozzfest crowd would cross over to Idol, even if Halford signed on.

And those are 9 people I considered to take up the mantle of Mr. Cowell. Some are better fits than others, but that’s the fun of reality TV like this: so many possibilities.

(all static images from Wikipedia)



  1. […] Hate on Diddy and his antics all you want, but the man knows his way around a high profile sample and a cinematic sound. “Pray” stomps with swagger and symphonic pomp and the guitars rage just enough to be badass. “No Hook” feels like a ganglord pontificating over his empire when Jay-Z flows over the slow burn music. Heck, even the Marvin Gaye sample on “American Dreamin’,” enhances the song’s wistful/wishful tone. […]

  2. […] Kathy sent me an essay by Lyndsey Parker on Yahoo that counts down the 9 Worst TV Judges of All Time. Three of the judges Parker lists come from music shows, two come from dance shows, and one comes from a variety show that often features music acts. Parker’s criteria for making the list seems to be pretty fair: to be a bad judge is equal parts a lack of credibility and awful onscreen antics. As down as I am on the current judging panel on Idol (well really just Randy and Steven), I understand why none of them made the list. Spoiler alert: Parker’s piece certainly made me rethink my argument that Diddy would make a great judge on Idol. […]

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