The roster of rumored replacement judges for season 10 of "American Idol" has read like, well, the line-up for one of the show's traditionally big season finales: Justin Timberlake, Elton John, Bret Michaels, Harry Connick Jr, Chris Isaak and Jessica Simpson.
All of the above have either been debunked or dropped off the radar in the days since their names were first floated, but the one that rose to the top on Thursday, according to multiple reports, might just have what it takes to fill in the Paula Abdul Memorial Chair in the wake of Ellen DeGeneres' departure: Jennifer Lopez.
Despite some head-scratching upon word that the former fly girl and singer/actress was in final negotiations to join the judge's panel, Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jessica Shaw said the choice makes some sense. "On the plus side, she was one of the best guest mentors," Shaw said of Lopez's stint as a supportive, helpful guide to the season-six cast on Latin night. "And that's not an easy job because many have not done it so well. I was a bit surprised that she was as good a mentor as she was, but she knew every contestant's name and is a huge fan of the show."
You might recall that newly departed judge DeGeneres was also an avowed big fan of "Idol" when she signed on last year to take over the Abdul seat. But Shaw said Lopez has the thing that Ellen, despite her long career in front of cameras and onstage as a comedian, lacked: music-industry experience.
"I don't think of her as a quintessential music figure, like Elton John, who is an artist with a capital A," she said of Lopez, who has released six studio albums, starred in more than a dozen movies and, like Abdul, started her career as a professional dancer. "I'm not sure J-Lo is on that level. But, that said, neither was Paula Abdul, yet she was a judge and a force on the show." While nobody expects Lopez to step up and be the new Simon Cowell — that seat has not yet been filled — Shaw said Lopez could serve as the big, recognizable name that could draw in a new audience. "Everyone knows her. They may or may not like her, but they know the name."
With so many names in play, Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University and longtime "Idol" watcher, said he was holding out final judgement on Lopez until the choice is officially announced. "I guess she would fill the Paula-diva spot, as opposed to Kara, who didn't fit in," he said of season-two judging panel veteran songwriter Kara DioGuardi, who is reportedly on her way out as well. "Part of it is you just have to see them in the chair doing it before you have an idea of if it will work."
Thompson pointed to the DeGeneres experiment as proof of someone with copious TV talent who never seemed to find her zone on the show. He said the key is finding a panel that has the kind of crackling chemistry sole original judge Randy Jackson, Abdul and Cowell had in their first seven seasons together.
A spokesperson for "Idol" gave a no comment on the casting rumors and spokespeople for DioGuardi and Lopez had not returned requests for comment at press time.
MJ Santilli, webmaster of the "Idol" fansite MJsBigBlog.com, remembers how good Lopez was as a mentor and said the "Jenny From the Block" singer is in a perfect spot to segue to the "Idol" panel.
"She's kind of on the other side of her career, she's not the movie star she used to be and her last album didn't sell well," she said of Lopez, who has had a rough time at the box office lately and whose most recent album has been lost in the limbo of a label switch. "From that standpoint, she's a good candidate. And after she did the episode, nobody said she was a diva and the contestants seemed to like her."
Do you think Jennifer Lopez could make a good "Idol" judge?