Ellen DeGeneres' Live 'American Idol' Debut: Experts Weigh In

The jury's out on the new judge, who didn't make much of an impression.


That was the general consensus Wednesday morning (February 24) of Ellen DeGeneres' live-show debut on "American Idol." While DeGeneres didn't have a face-plant like Kara DioGuardi had during her performance-show debut last year, our experts said, the comedian also didn't provide the kind of leadership the show will need when Simon Cowell leaves.

"It was an OK debut," said Rickey Yaneza, webmaster of "Idol" blog Rickey.org. "It really reinforced, though, that Simon is the star judge of the show, and I even felt like they were propping him up a bit, romanticizing him by having her sit at the other end."

Yaneza said after only one live show — and a handful of well-received pre-taped Hollywood rounds — it's obviously a bit early to form an opinion on DeGeneres' impact, but he wondered if she was going to be able to provide the kind of substantive, sometimes cutting commentary Cowell has made his signature. "Her comments were kind of rambling, and she didn't say much — mostly 'I like you,' which isn't of much substance," he said. "If she's the judge that will prop up contestants [in the absence of former judge Paula Abdul], there weren't too many high points."

Another avid "Idol" blogger, MJ Santilli of MJsBigBlog.com, said despite her years of stand-up experience and copious TV work, DeGeneres appeared a bit nervous and jumpy at times. "But I think she did pretty well for her first night out — certainly no worse than the rest of the panel, who tend to repeat themselves and talk in clichés," she said, adding that despite her misgivings, it felt like all the judges seemed to raise their game a bit during the performance night.

As for comparisons between DeGeneres and the kooky-but-nurturing Abdul, Santilli said there is none. "So far, Ellen is nothing like Paula," she said. "She tends to make sense, and she's not afraid to offer negative critiques. I'm not sure replacing Paula is that important. The contestants might miss Paula's soft touch, and the interest she took in their careers, but I don't think the viewers are going to miss having a super-mama on the panel."

Yaneza's biggest worry is that, based on her first night of live judging, DeGeneres won't be the person who can or will bridge the gap when Cowell leaves. "It was painfully clear last night that Simon Cowell is the judge you listen to," he said. "I think she held herself well ... and hopefully Ellen will bring more later on. She's smart. She'll get this right."

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