'American Idol' Is Down, but Is It Out?

To fix show, critics say plug leaks, bring back Lythgoe, find right judge mix.

Aug. 3, 2010— -- Is "American Idol," going down in flames?

Fox made no announcement Monday about its biggest show, allowing wild speculation about the future of "Idol" to continue: Is Simon Cowell and Ellen Degeneres? Will the show's original producer come back to save it?

"Right now, it sounds very chaotic," M.J. Santilli, who writes MJs Big Blog about the show, told ABCNews.com. "You wonder about what's going on behind the scenes. Whether they can right the ship by the end of the month remains to be seen."

At the beginning of September, the judges are expected to take their places at the nationwide auditions. But we may not know who the judges are until the end of this month.

"No one has signed a deal on either side of the camera for anyone to come on to 'American Idol' who wasn't on it last year," Fox Entertainment chief Peter Rice told the media at a Television Critics Association executive session in Beverly Hills Monday.

Rice presumably is referring also to Nigel Lythgoe, the show's original producer, who left to create "So You Think You Can Dance." It's been rumored that he will return.

But other than Degeneres announcing last Thursday that she was quitting the show, nothing has been confirmed. That includes whether Steven Tyler will be taking the place of Degeneres and Cowell or whether Kara DioGuardi has been fired or not.

Make It Or Break It Time for 'Idol'

"Right now, the show is at a crucial crossroads," Leslie Bruce, a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, told ABCNews.com. "They need to find the right mix of judges.

"The need to have star power may not be as important as the right personality mix," Bruce said, pointing out that Cowell and Randy Jackson were virtually unknown to the American audience when "Idol" debuted.

Where this leaves DioGuardi is uncertain. TMZ first reported last week that DioGuardi had been ousted. No one from her camp has yet to comment. And Fox executives dodged the question on Monday.

Meanwhile, Aerosmith frontman Tyler made it sound like he's in for Season 10.

"I'm doing it. What do you think? I'm doing it," he said after one of his concerts in Las Vegas on Saturday, according to People.com.

J-Lo reportedly has a deal "in principle," but according to the Los Angeles Times she's trying to sweeten it with a television and movie development deal before signing on.

With nothing nailed down, Santilli believes the rampant rumors will cost the show valuable PR. Bruce agreed.

"There needs to be more control about these leaks," Bruce said, "otherwise they risk being the show that cried judge too many times. They need to get a panel together quietly, then get out there and make the announcement."

Here's what else Bruce and Santilli say it will take to right Fox's mother ship:

Bring Back Lythgoe

"His coming back would be good," said Santilli, who believes the reports of his return are true. "He ran a really tight ship. When Nigel left the show, it started going downhill. It would be good for him to come back. Nigel is very colorful and very honest."

Once Lythgoe is on board, Fox should allow him to make the announcements about the judges' panel, she added.

"He would be good as the face of all this," Santilli said. "By putting Nigel at the forefront, it's like saying, 'We're getting this back on track.'"

Farewell Ellen

Santilli believes Degeneres leaving is a good thing for the show.

''I'm happy she realized she wasn't working," she said. "She was terrible. She had no business being a judge. She had no ties to the music industry. She was completely unwilling to be honest because she didn't want to offend anybody, so she ended up repeating herself. She had no chemistry with the rest of the panel. She seemed separate and she looked uncomfortable. I think she should concentrate on her talk show and stand-up and hosting things."

Jury's Still Out on Kara

Fox not commenting on DioGuardi's fate leaves open the possibility that she could be back.

But Santilli said she wouldn't be surprised if Fox did fire her, not because of what she said on the panel but how she said it.

"She had some really good critiques," she said. "She's just not very likable. At times, she was condescending. Last season, she took on this cougar role, which was very beneath her. Her flirting with Simon looked bizarre."

"She should have played the professional," Santilli said. "If she's fired, it's because she's not connecting with the audience. It's a shame, because she knows what's she's talking about more than Randy Jackson does."

But Bruce doesn't think producers have anything personal against DioGuardi.

"Everybody is up in the air," she said, "except Randy, who still has a year left on his contract."

The J-Lo Factor

"I think she was okay as a mentor," Santilli said, referring to season six, when Lopez mentored contestants on Latin night. "I didn't think she was great."

What Lopez has going for her, Santilli said, is "she more likable than Kara."

"She might be able to pull it off as a Paula Abdul type," she said.

"J-Lo has an amazing built-in fan base; she's in the industry," Bruce said. "But it's not about star power. It's about the right mix of judges."

Steven Tyler: Say What?

What happened to the big guns, like Elton John and Justin Timberlake, whose names once were floated as possible replacements for Cowell?

Hiring a has-been rocker with an admitted drug problem would not be steering the ship in the right direction, according to Santilli.

"It seems really bizarre to me," she said. "I don't have a good feeling about that."

But again, Bruce said it comes down to "finding that right chemistry."

It's the Talent, Stupid

Bruce said the show is making the right move by lowering the age of contestants to 16.

"It's broadening the pool," she said. "I think the show is making the right move by really focusing on talent recruitment."