Now that both Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez have confirmed that they will not return next season, "American Idol" is looking for a few good judges. Mariah Carey is in talks to come aboard the show, according to multiple reports, and celebrities from Charlie Sheen to Russell Simmons have said they'd be interested in joining the judging panel.
But even an injection of new talent might not be enough to save the aging show.
"I think this is the real beginning of the end," USA Today's "Idol" commentator Brian Mansfield told ABCNews.com. "You could look at it as when Simon left, but coming off a year where the ratings were down as much as they were and this revolving door of judges, I think we will look back and say this is were the slide started."
Mansfield is referring to the massive 23 percent drop in ratings last season. The series ended its 11th season at No. 2 behind NBC's "Sunday Night Football, though it still ruled among the most-watched talent shows. Still, the Fox show is fighting to keep its coveted 18-49 demographic as its audience ages, after NBC's "The Voice" drew an almost equal number among young viewers.
Chase Carey, chief operating officer at Fox parent News Corp., told Wall Street analysts recently that "we probably didn't do enough" to retool it last season, adding, "Our challenge for next year is to put some fresh energy in."
Richard Rushfield, author of "American Idol: The Untold Story" said Tyler and Lopez weren't contemporary enough to keep the audience interested beyond the initial curiosity of the first season. "Once the novelty factor wore off, the show was stuck with them and they didn't add anything to shaping and creating the drama of the show."
Steven Tyler announced his departure Thursday, saying he was leaving to return to his "first love," Aerosmith. A day later, on Friday, Lopez's rep confirmed to the Associated Press that she would be leaving, after telling Ryan Seacrest on his radio show that morning: "I honestly feel the time has come to get back to do what I do. It wasn't about playing games or wanting more money or any of that. It was a business decision."
Also unclear is whether the sole remaining original judge, Randy Jackson, will return.
"If Randy leaves, it gives you an opportuntity to completely reinvent a show that is feeling a little long in the tooth. But then there's no connection other than Seacrest and the set to previous seasons, and 'Idol' becomes just another show in a schedule full of singing shows. There's no real reason to stay with it."
But Matt Whitfield, the features editor of Yahoo! Entertainment, thinks there's one way to draw new, younger viewers and hold on to the show's core audience: "Personally, I think Randy should be handed a pink slip, and former contestants should be hired to fill the empty seats. How awesome would it be to have Adam Lambert, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, and Kelly Clarkson up there? Yes, Kelly recently starred on Duets, but we can forgive her. She's the Season 1 champ!"
Click through to see a list of possible replacements to fill the judges' chairs.
Speaking of former Idols, Lambert, the Season 8 runner-up, has denied he's been in talks to serve as a judge, but admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that he'd "be more than flattered to have that conversation." Mansfield doesn't seem him getting an offer unless Jackson leaves, adding, "he's just not going to bring a big enough audience from outside the 'Idol' world."
Mariah Carey has served as a mentor on the show and her name constantly surfaces as the star aspiring female Idols dare to follow. Now, Carey is "in serious talks" with producers of the show to become one of the judges. "She's in play," an insider told People magazine. "At the very worst she's interchangeable with Paula Abdul or JLo," Mansfield said. But Rushfield thinks it will take more than A-list cred to bolster "Idol" ratings. "I think the idea of bringing in stars and their star power has about run its course," he said." I think what you want is people who are good judges."
|Fergie and will.i.am|
Also on the producers' wish list, according to E! Online, are Black Eyed Peas stars Fergie and will.i.am. Will.i.am has an advantage: he served alongside Jimmy Iovine as a mentor to the contestants last season.
Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe told gossip website TMZ that he liked to see Charlie Sheen and funnyman Jerry Lewis on the panel next season. Lythgoe may have been joking, but Sheen was taking it seriously. The actor told TMZ that he'd be on board if producers of his new FX series "Anger Management" sign off and "Idol" is willing to show him the money. "If the numbers move the needle AND 'Idol' matches 20 percent of my weekly salary for Autism Speaks, JDRF, and the Boys and Girls Club … then the hell with it. As we say, pour the smoke."