Credit: Perry: Jen Lowery/PR Photos; Williams: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos; Tarantino: Richard Young/; Folds: Chris Haston/NBC; Morgan: Michael Williams/; Madonna: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos

Plenty of folks were left reeling from yesterday’s announcement that the current ninth season of American Idol will be Simon Cowell’s last. Heck, even I made the sound of a skittish Pomeranian getting caught underfoot before steeling myself for an inevitable blogging frenzy. But as Carly Smithson so aptly reminded us during season 7: “Show must go on!” And since Fox has already announced plans to air a Cowell-free Idol in 2011, the obvious question becomes: Who should replace him?

Before we address some possibilities, a humble request to the suits at Fox, 19, and Fremantle who’ll be hunkering down to make this decision: Please, put the kibosh on replacing Simon with a “cranky British type” (i.e. Piers Morgan). Because, really, what better way to remind us of the absence of the show’s most popular judge than to offer up a similar-yet-inferior substitute? It’d be like swapping in New Coke for Coke Classic. Or Dennis Farina for Jerry Orbach. Idol needs a new panelist who possesses Simon’s casual but brutal honesty, his succinctness, and his occasional sense of wonder over a brilliant performance — but with a distinctively different style. And while it’s impossible to predict who’ll be able to deliver the goods live on camera for a massive TV audience — perhaps the most important and most difficult aspect of Simon’s job — I’d like to suggest five folks who might want to drop their resumes off at Idol HQ:

Linda Perry: The megaproducer (and former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman) is reportedly a perfectionist in the studio and has helped powerhouse vocalists like Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Adam Lambert reach impressive artistic heights. Knowledge of what it takes to make a hit record combined with live performance experience could make her an interesting, offbeat choice. And wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a woman in the role of judges’ panel tough-guy?

Pharrell Williams: Like Perry, Williams (as one half of the Neptunes) has written and produced an impressive collection of chart-toppers (for Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake), and he, too, has plenty of on-stage experience thanks to his stint in N*E*R*D. So in other words, he’s more current than Randy, hipper than Simon, and less infuriating than that table-banging monster. Talk about a win-win-win!

Quentin Tarantino: He was pretty terrific guest-judging “Movie Soundtrack Night” during season 3, and if Seacrest can do a morning radio show, E! News, red-carpet coverage, and produce that stank Kardashian show while hosting Idol, surely Tarantino can juggle a little movie directing with his new critiquing duties, no?

Ben Folds: My colleague Ken Tucker already made the Folds-as-Idol-panelist case after his gig on NBC’s The Sing-Off (while PopWatch tastemaker Wendy Mitchell wanted to give the guy his own show!). Plus, several of you gave Folds a shout-out in the comments section of my “Idol will be okay!” blog item yesterday. But as someone who was out of the country for much of the show’s run, I have to ask: Is Folds acerbic enough to do the job properly?

Piers Morgan: Can’t. Do not want.

Madonna: Okay, so she has a sort-of British accent, but let’s not DQ her from the gig just yet. Think about it: Her Madgesty is cantankerous and outspoken, completely comfortable with a massive audience, and as the former head of Maverick Records, has a good idea of what it takes to launch a major-label artist (like Alanis Morissette, for example). Plus, you just know she’d kill for a venue to keep her pop-cultural relevancy well into her 60s. I’m kind of loving this prospect, and if it happens, I’d like to be rewarded with a five-figure salary and a producer credit from Simon Fuller.

Your turn, Idoloonies! Who would you hire to replace Simon Cowell? (And don’t say “no one,” since someone is gonna get the gig.) Vote in our poll below, then head to the comments section to defend your choices or nominate “others.” Also: For the love of Hollywood Week, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak!

More ‘American Idol’:

Image Credit: Perry: Jen Lowery/PR Photos; Williams: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos; Tarantino: Richard Young/; Folds: Chris Haston/NBC; Morgan: Michael Williams/; Madonna: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos