By Dan Snierson
September 10, 2009 at 11:46 PM EDT

We all know that Ellen DeGeneres will join American Idol as the fourth judge when TV’s No. 1 show returns for season 9, but how did the talk show host and funny woman land the gig? “We went through a lot of names in our heads, but Ellen had done So You Think You Can Dance for us, she’s been on Idol Gives Back, and she’s an enormous fan of Idol,” Fox president of alternative entertainment Mike Darnell tells “And it just occurred to us: I wonder if she’d be interested. We made a call, and she was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea. And it came together in a couple of weeks. It was amazing!” Idol exec producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz also marvels at the ease with which they pulled off Operation Ellen. “You talk about potential people, and everybody’s got their opinion, and there are the pros and cons and you debate it — and with Ellen, actually it was like, ‘Wow, that’d be great,’” she tells “There was no question and no debate that it would be really a great thing for the show.” Neither Darnell nor Frot-Coutaz seem concerned about DeGeneres’ lack of music industry experience. “She’s a huge music fan,” says Frot-Coutaz. “She understands music. But ultimately she’s a fantastic entertainer and she understands what it takes to be on a stage and to have to connect with an audience….She also brings the perspective of the fan and the viewer. And that’s a perspective we’ve never had on the panel.” Adds Darnell: “This is what you want: a big name people adore. And she’s funny, she’s entertaining, and she’s in love with the show. It wasn’t like we had to make a fit. She fits right in.”

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