By Ken Tucker
Updated July 30, 2010 at 05:56 PM EDT

With the news that Ellen DeGeneres is leaving American Idol close on the heels of Simon Cowell, the conversation surrounding the show is all about who’ll replace who, and when. I have an alternative idea: Why not just cancel American Idol, since it’s looking more and more as though it’s going to be a hollow shell of its hollow shell?

Oh, I know, that’s not really going to happen — the show is still too popular, despite its dipping ratings — but it’s something to consider. The speculation that Jennifer Lopez might become the next judge probably won’t solve the problem Ellen articulated, which was that she (and, I’d say by extension, any well-established celebrity) tends to be reluctant to criticize a contestant with the same sharpness that a, y’know, real music critic might.

And that’s what made Cowell invaluable: He was the only judge who was both specific and thick-skinned enough to offer at least a little bit of useful, entertaining advice to and analysis of any singer’s strengths and weaknesses.

Increasingly, Idol seems like a big machine that must keep going, regardless of the quality of the judging or the finalists. A really bold move would be for the network to acknowledge that the show has run its course, and offer Randy Jackson all the free therapy he might need if he had to go back to his previous career.

As I said, I know: Ain’t gonna happen, dawg. But I’m throwing it out there as a constructive suggestion for the health of American TV, singing, and idol-making.

Agree? Disagree?

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