New American Idol Judges: Will It Work?

It's looking more and more like American Idol will go boldly into the future with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez as new judges, Randy Jackson still there as the third judge and a link to the past, and the panel being reduced to its original size of three with the dismissal of Kara DioGuardi.

The departure of Simon Cowell would in itself have prompted the biggest change ever for Idol, given his status as the only judge America paid close attention to, and his lack of interest in trying to stay popular by pretending everyone on the show is just dandy. Fox and Idol producers decided to make even more dramatic changes, simultaneously heightening the profile of the judging panel -- unlike the case when the show premiered, all the judges are current celebrities, and Lopez is a major star in both music and films -- and making the judges less significant by cutting their number.

But Tyler and Lopez are unknown quantities when it comes to being reality show judges, and mere fame does not a good judge make, as Ellen DeGeneres proved. And there's still the question of how this new trio will be able to work together, given the three star egos involved.

Tyler will likely face the most scrutiny, because even though he's been in the public eye much longer than J-Lo or Randy, his persona isn't quite as clear. Aerosmith has had a much lower profile in the new century as it has evolved into an oldies act (though still a very lucrative one); it is likely that most of the teenage viewers Idol has been hemorrhaging lately are going to have only a vague idea who he is. Also, there's going to be a perception that Tyler is the replacement for Simon, even if it's not actually phrased that way, and thus he will have expectations for his performance that Lopez won't face.

The veteran rocker really has had two public lives: the young Mick Jagger imitator who canoodled with a Playmate in the '70s and did every drug there is; and the MTV-era star who displayed a wicked sense of humor and a great rapport with the camera. We can expect Tyler will rely on that second life heavily in his new post, doing his best to lessen the tension for the kids and providing valuable tips on live performance (something Lopez has almost totally avoided). But someone is going to have to be the panel's voice of reason, the person who delivers harsh truths to overmatched singers (Randy can be biting on occasion, but no one really pays attention). Lopez will probably have a hard time doing this, so the job may fall to Tyler by default.

Jennifer Lopez comes to Idol with a pair of images at war with each other. She wants her fans to think of her as "Jenny from the block," in the words of her much-derided hit song: the girl from the Bronx who stayed close to home at heart, even as she gained worldwide fame. But that song and its video also flaunted the trappings of her current life as Hollywood royalty, and Lopez has tended to come across as unapproachable (though it must be said that her mentoring during Season Six of Idol was enthusiastic and friendly). This is someone, let's not forget, who was tone deaf enough to release a single in tribute to Louboutins in the middle of a brutal recession.

Both of these factors could give Lopez trouble on Idol -- she might be both too protective of her image as the street kid who hit it big to want to stomp on the dreams of young singers; and too much of a big star to be able to portray herself, Paula Abdul style, as the contenders' best friend, and put them at ease. And there's also the question of whether she can really give cogent singing criticism without rehearsing, given her own mediocre voice and lack of formal training. Live TV is an unforgiving beast, and Lopez hasn't had to work live much in her career.

Whether Randy would have made it to Season Ten without being under contract is unknown, though he's someone who seems to realize that he fell into the job of a lifetime, and isn't in much of a position to make demands. The producers of Idol reportedly believed that changing the entire judging panel in one offseason would be too much for the average viewer, though they might be overestimating everyone's attachment to Randy, who has said and done almost nothing memorable in his time on the show other than pound his half-dozen catchphrases into the ground. But total predictability isn't such a bad thing. It seems safe to bet that Randy will be mostly deferential to the two bigger stars in his midst, and for that reason will have no problem fitting in with them. Plus, he knows the pace of the season, has a general idea of what personality types America goes for, and can perhaps help acclimate the newcomers.

As for Kara, the first American Idol judge to be literally fired rather than retire voluntarily or leave after a contract dispute like Paula, she seems to have been a victim mostly of the decision to reduce the number of judges, although after Ellen called it quits, Kara could have stayed on as judge #3 along with Randy and the Simon replacement. But there were too many reasons why this did not happen: Kara had a year-to-year contract while Randy's deal still has one year to run; she didn't provide the star power of Lopez; while she has significant industry experience, she never developed the credibility of Simon. Most importantly, Kara simply doesn't have a big constituency among Idol fans, many of whom resented her for ruining the Randy/Paula/Simon chemistry and for making it easier for Idol to walk away from Paula a year ago.

Before very long, the new Big Three will be facing auditioners for the first time, and it will be fascinating once the first gossip about how they are faring leaks out.