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Ellen DeGeneres leaves 'American Idol'; Will Fox name a replacement Monday?

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ellenImage Credit: Andrew EcclesFox announced today that Ellen DeGeneres has decided to step down from her role as a judge on American Idol. DeGeneres joined the panel in its ninth season. The network released this statement today: “A couple months ago, I let Fox and the American Idol producers know that this didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” said DeGeneres. “I told them I wouldn’t leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings. I loved the experience working on IDOL and I am very grateful for the year I had.  I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be.”

Fox released a statement of its own:  “We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of Idol,” said Peter Rice, Chairman of Entertainment, Fox Networks Group. “We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show.” Added Idol creator Simon Fuller in a statement: “I loved Ellen’s passion for the artists and her nurturing skills. She brought honesty and optimism to our judging panel and I will miss her greatly.”

News of DeGeneres’ departure comes amid reports that former Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is all but certain to return to the show for its 10th season and that he reportedly favors an entirely new slate of judges for the competition show to make up for the loss of Simon Cowell, who left at the end of Idol’s ninth season to launch a U.S.-based version of his popular British series The X Factor. Complicating matters could be the fact that current judge Randy Jackson is reportedly signed through next year.

On Wednesday, a source told EW that the network’s dream scenario would be to make a splashy announcement about Idol’s future at the annual Television Critics Tour session with journalists on Monday in Beverly Hills. “They’d be the talk of TCA, and the message to other networks would essentially be, ‘Follow that!’” says the source. EW also learned that despite their names surfacing as potential Cowell replacements earlier this week, both Justin Timberlake and Elton John’s meetings with Idol producers took place “a couple months ago.”

Even though she seemed committed to her new gig at Fox, it was hard to imagine DeGeneres wanting to stick around if and when Cowell bolted. In January, she told EW that “If Simon goes, I go!” when asked to comment on rumors that the irascible Brit was preparing to leave at season’s end. Meanwhile, feedback for her performance was generally mixed: Though DeGeneres offered real critiques during the Hollywood round, she came off as bland and predictable during the live shows by often telling everyone they were “great.”

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