“American Idol” returns for its 12th season on Wednesday night, having once again undergone a rather dramatic facelift by adding a trio of new judges to the fold: Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban.
Of course, as you are probably aware by now, two of those judges want to kill each other , which means that this new season might just go down as the greatest in “Idol” history (or at least the most violent). And while Mariah and Nicki are already the two baddest bitches to ever grace the show’s stage — Urban should be getting combat pay for having to sit between them — we’ll be tuning in to see how they’ll fare as actual judges. What can we say? We’re purists.
So, in anticipation of what’s sure to be a fiery season, and in celebration of Mariah, Nicki and Keith’s big debuts, here’s our rankings of all the “American Idol” judges, from worst to best. After all, once upon a time, judging is what they were supposed to do.
Ellen DeGeneres: At least her time on the show was short. DeGeneres was brought in to replace Paula Abdul on “Idol’s” ninth season, and was touted as bringing a “fan’s perspective” to the proceedings. But who knew said perspective would be so boring? Ellen never truly seemed to find her footing on the show, her jokes often fell flat and the constant stream of milquetoast musings she spouted contributed next to nothing. She was out at season’s end, though, her, uh, “achievements” on the show will live on in infamy.
Steven Tyler: We all know how he felt about his stint as an “Idol” judge, though, really, we think that assessment should end up in the cornfield right along with Bob Dylan . During his two seasons as a judge, Tyler was frequently incoherent and occasionally lecherous, though we suppose you have to give him some credit for his tremendous achievements in dangly jewelry.
Jennifer Lopez: There’s really nothing bad we can say about J.Lo’s time behind the table, which is probably why she’s stuck in the middle of this list. She never had a memorable moment (unless you consider her coining the phrase “Jer-Bear” to be a moment), heaped piles of praise on undeserving singers, more annoyingly, never spurned Heejun Han’s advances. Now that she’s left the show, Lopez will go down as the most middling, matronly judge in “Idol” history … for better or worse.
Randy Jackson: “Idol’s” sole survivor, Jackson has somehow remained firmly entrenched on the panel despite rapidly-declining results. And, quite frankly, that longevity is about the only reason we don’t have him ranked way lower on this list. His catchphrases are about as clunky as his choice of accessories and his critiques are usually nothing more than hot air (or more opportunities to say “Yo.”) It’s been twelve years now, Dawg; time to step the game up.
Kara DioGuardi: Unquestionably the most underrated judge to ever serve on “Idol,” DioGuardi brought actual expertise to the show, having written songs for the likes of Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. She also wasn’t afraid to clash with her fellow judges or rip the occasional contestant, which made for good TV. Of course, in their infinite wisdom, “Idol” producers decided her role as the “fourth judge” needed to be eliminated, and she was gone after just two years. It probably didn’t help her cause that DioGuardi was pretty much despised by viewers, either. She’d rank higher on this list if not for “No Boundaries,” the truly terrible coronation song she wrote for season eight champ Kris Allen. Hey, she couldn’t be great at everything.
Paula Abdul: Oh sweet, somnambulant Paula. Over the course of eight seasons, she slurred her way into our hearts, acting as the (incoherent) foil to Simon Cowell, inexplicably critiquing songs contestants had yet to actually perform, lip-syncing through comeback singles and accusing male singers of wearing women’s clothes. Shoot, there were so many amazing Paula moments that, when it was announced she was leaving the show, MTV News made a tribute video in her honor. She wasn’t the best “Idol” judge, but, really, that’s what made her so great. That and whatever was in her big red Coke cup.
Simon Cowell: The man, the myth, the legend. It’s entirely possible that without Cowell’s sharp-tongued witticisms, “Idol” never would have become a hit, and there’s no denying the show has suffered since he left after the ninth season . He never shied away from ripping contestants — and more often than not, his critiques were spot on — and seemed to relish his role as the token “mean judge.” But he wasn’t just a villain, and you could tell that both Abdul and Jackson loved working with him. Producers will never be able to replace Cowell, and though he’s since taken his talents to “The X Factor,” we still hope against hope that one day he’ll make a triumphant return and save “Idol” from itself. Hey, it might happen.
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