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'American Idol' exclusive: Harry Connick Jr., Shania Twain, three others 'highly unlikely' as judges

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Image Credit: (FROM LEFT: Connick, Twain, Isaak) Janet Mayer/PR Photos; D/Crisler/Retna ltd; Bob Charlotte/PR PhotosThe list of contenders competing for a spot on the American Idol season 10 judges’ panel continues to shrink. A source close to the talks tells EW that Harry Connick Jr., Shania Twain, Chris Isaak, Justin Timberlake, and Jessica Simpson — all of whom have been mentioned in the last two weeks as possible replacements for Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres — are now considered “highly unlikely” to get a full-time gig on Fox’s ratings behemoth.

If the J.Lo deal falls into place, said the source, there’s virtually no chance you’ll see a second woman sitting alongside her. What’s more, the insider added, “the panel really has to appeal to a wide berth — from your 10-year-old niece to your grandmother. I don’t think every person who’s been rumored for the position necessarily fits that bill.”

Fox officially announced this morning that former Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who has previously gone on the record saying he favors a three-person judging panel, is returning to that position for the show’s upcoming season. [Get full details on that announcement on our Hollywood Insider blog.] There are at least two advantages to trimming the number of permanent judges from four (which Idol maintained during its eighth and ninth seasons) to three (the magic number over the show’s initial seven seasons), added the source. For starters, a smaller panel leaves more time to focus on contestants. Secondly, an odd number of judges more easily enforces the idea of a “majority rule” when the judges are in disagreement about a particular performance, the source contended.

The definitive ouster of Connick, Twain, Isaak, Timberlake, and Simpson from the Idol contenders’ list gives more fuel to the widely rumored notion that Lopez, Steven Tyler, and existing judge Randy Jackson are the front-runners to sit behind the traditional Idol Coke cups when season 10 audition call-backs begin to take place in September. In an interview with USA Today, Lythgoe said he was rooting for Lopez over Twain, and said that Tyler “would probably be the one I would be interested to turn on to watch, not knowing what he was going to say.” Lythgoe called Jackson the “barnacle” of the Idol ship when talking to Variety last night.

Are you sad to see Connick, Twain, Isaak, Timberlake, or Simpson fall from contention for the Idol judging gig? Or conversely, are you relieved to see any of them crossed off the list? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And to get all my Idol-related news and commentary, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.

More ‘American Idol’:

Steven Tyler radio interview proves dubious audition for ‘American Idol’ judging gig

Kara DioGuardi: Still no official word on her ‘American Idol’ fate

Ellen DeGeneres exiting ‘American Idol’

‘American Idol’: Jessica Simpson met with execs

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