By Annie Barrett
April 26, 2013 at 06:19 PM EDT

We all should, really, for being so LAME. As rumored this week, Idol may shake up its entire judging panel next season in an effort to boost ratings. It’s getting beaten in the adult demo by repeats of The Big Bang Theory and a fresh-from-the-swamp ep of Duck Dynasty. Oof. Does the show even matter anymore? It’s, like, way existential.

Go right to Page 2 for our list of potential new judges, and suggest your own! I need to rant for a bit below.

Now, I am by no means a fan of this current low-chemistry judging panel. Keith Urban seems genuine, kind, and often excited to be there. He squirms in his seat and delivers pained facial expressions along with “unnnnhhh” grunts whenever he’s delighted by a performance. He seems awake and alive! He’s smart about music, and I believe him when he talks.

Not so with all three of the others. Randy Jackson hasn’t uttered an original thought in years. Mariah Carey often has some great technical music suggestions for the contestants, but they get buried under 90 seconds of rambling, 11 uses of the word “I,” and an insistence on not hurting anyone’s feelings.

I know many people enjoy Nicki Minaj’s bold opinions and the possessed energy she brings to the panel. And yes — a lot of times she’ll say the obvious, honest thing we want to hear when people mess up. That’s refreshing. It’s just that every single damn word out of her mouth strikes me as completely fake. She cycles through her own personalities even more often than she switches wigs. She’s a colorful, often convincing cloud of artifice doing what she does best: play-acting the role of Clown Car.

If you asked me what was most wrong with the show, though, I wouldn’t point to a judge. Season 12’s dated/limited songbooks and weak themes continue to disappoint. The casting was overall weak and obvious. Ryan could have just announced at the top of each show, “Welcome back. We picked these really boring guys (pleeeeeeease find them as boring as Ken and Nigel do!) and these amazing and powerful girls, and you will vote for the girls because America loves superheroes! This week’s theme is Songs We Found in a Dumpster Outside The Price Is Right in the ’70s!” At least he’d be keeping it honest.

But no, the biggest problem for me is that the agendas of producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick are so clearly and lazily filtered through these current judges! And why do they let that happen? Because they’re getting paid millions and millions of dollars to sit there and not be invested in the show! It’s The X Factor all over again. There’s just no soul.

Nicki and Randy in particular were the emptiest vessels this week, spouting out new, imaginary plots about Candice Glover and Kree Harrison needing “redemption” by the second round, Angie Miller as the undisputed winner of the night, and Amber Holcomb as the most “current,” “ready,” and “now” “superstar” of the pack after she sang corny disco song “MacArthur Park.” Earlier she’d stood still on a smoky purple staircase hitting some high notes and very few low notes on Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” and they hailed her as a “young Rihanna.” For THAT!

As I said in my recap, Wednesday’s was the most manipulative episode of the season (count the lies!). Now that the producers have their guaranteed girl winner, the next step is to make sure it’ll be one of the skinny ones. And these judges just GO WITH IT!  You can practically hear the producers furiously whispering their course-correction plots. Candice is old-fashioned and won’t come out of the church. Kree has lost her sparkle. Angie is the best now because we say so. Nicki, you want to be Amber’s best friend. Say it. Say it now. Say it five different ways so even our dumbest viewers will get it.

I say as long as the same producers are in charge, the blatantly orchestrated vibe of American Idol (and The X Factor too) is never gonna go away, no matter who the judges are. This show used to be about who was the most exciting contestant on the stage, on this TV show, here and now. (That’s Candice.) It’s turned into a strange pageant where the performances seem negligible because the judges spend all their time forecasting a contestant’s commercial marketability — read: BLOWING SMOKE — instead of critiquing what they just saw. The judges are plot-puppets programmed to equate pink lipstick with personality and leather hotpants with talent. It’s not working.

But the point of this post was supposed to be about coming up with new judges. So let’s do that!

NEXT PAGE: Who should judge?

Jennifer Lopez should not come back as a judge. That’s absurd. She was even more of a mouthpiece for the producers than Randy and Nicki, just a little less obvious about it. Her return would just herald more of the same — boring, manipulative, ooh pretty dresses shimmery hair, but no.

If by some miracle, next season’s judges are allowed to skip the weekly brainwashing sesh and voice their own opinions, I’d say my ideal panel would be Keith Urban, Pink, and Adam Lambert. Like I said, I’m not buyin’ Nicki, who rapidly cycles between two modes: Aggressively Bored and Obnoxiously Yelling. It’s 100 percent nonsense — an empty campaign for her personal brand and nothing else. Some think she’s the only bright spot of the season, but I say lose her; she turns too many others off. Pink has been in my head for awhile now, most of all because I simply can’t picture her getting up there and lying to promote an agenda. (See Darren’s masterpiece below for more on Pink.) Meanwhile, Adam Lambert is by far the smartest and funniest alum I can remember. Every time I hear him speak, I think THIS is what Idol needs, even if they’d never go for it. I can just see the three of these guys being frank and honest and real.

I don’t think there should be four permanent judges, but I do think a new panel could benefit from borrowing So You Think You Can Dance‘s “rotating guest judge” motif. This way you could filter in industry professionals or multi-hyphenates (Ryan Tedder comes to mind, but as an aside, I think I’m biased towards this guy in general because when I read his name I immediately picture a huge teddy bear), more successful Idol alums with busier schedules (Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson), and other stars (Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, former successful guest judges Katy Perry and Shania Twain).

Or! Idol should bring back the weekly guest mentors and have them sit on the panel during the show. Man, this season gets even lazier the more I think about it. Remember Stevie Nicks night last season? That seems like decades ago.

Here are some of my esteemed colleagues’ suggestions….

James Hibberd: The Voice cracked it TWICE. Celebrities that are likable and charismatic and know what they’re talking about. Even Cowell was back in the day likable and charismatic — if not famous — despite his meanness. The person they need (and can’t get) is Katy Perry or Madonna. Having said all of that I also have a weird Ke$ha crush.

Ewwwwww. But okay.

Sandra Gonzalez: I’d honestly keep Keith because he has a great attitude and gives thoughtful critiques. But I’d complement him with an Adam Levine-type (yes, totally replicating the Voice bro-mance model). I think this current panel is too combative. Yes, controversy is good for buzz, but no one wants to watch that every week. That’s The Voice‘s edge, I think. I’d say Justin Timberlake or Pink.

Samantha Highfill: Kelly Clarkson? She’s been on The Voice and was cute. On that note, what about Sheryl Crow? Would Bruno Mars or Ne-Yo work? Or Chris Martin? We should just say Gwyneth Paltrow and get all the haters riled up…

Adam Carlson: Miranda Lambert (Southern fun!) — also dishy when/if she divorces Blake

Grady Smith:

1. Bring back Kara DioGuardi! She was actually awesome in season 9, but Simon seemed like he was trying to make her look bad, though he was already checked out. As this video shows, she could actually be an incredible mentor musically.

2. Scot Borchetta. He runs Big Machine Label Group and discovered T-Swift. He’s a cunning business man and and can give an outspoken soundbite. (He told me Taylor Swift was a success because she’s “a real life Barbie doll singing about Romeo and Juliet!” Always a great interview so I figure he’d be a great judge.)

3. Retta? At least we’d get amazing tweets!

4. Brad Paisley. As “Accidental Racist” proved (clumsily), he’s bored with the country music scene and he’s interested in more than tractors and barnyards. He’s an incredible songwriter, probably the best guitar player in country music, and has a ridiculous sense of humor.

5. Miley Cyrus. She may be obnoxious, but she’s willing to state her opinion. That’s more than 99% of Hollywood!

And finally, a locally renowned philosopher who should have been working on something else….

Darren Franich:

An American Idol judging panel needs three things:

1. An authentic music star. Not just a pop star. Someone who has written music, performed music, been through the grinder.

2. Sex appeal. Not just hotness. Someone who will possibly develop flirtatious judge-chemistry with another judge. Think Simon and Paula.

3. Truth bombs. Somebody who’s not afraid of being the bad guy. In fact, someone who has built a career on warts-and-all authenticity.

What if you could combine all three of those things into one? And, as a bonus, what if this theoretical three-in-one person had also managed to weather a full decade as a popular musician, jumping between different genres and creating a totally unique persona that is also recognizably pop-y and approachable?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Alecia Beth Moore, better known as Pink. Think about it. She essentially invented the whole modern wave of Pop Diva Domination: You can draw a straight line from “Get This Party Started” to Katy Perry, Ke$ha, pre-messianic Lady Gaga, and post-weird Rihanna. She makes ridiculously popular songs that nevertheless feel personal — think of “So What,” or “Stupid Girls.” She’s a legit weirdo, a legit performer, a legit professional: Don’t you want to see her teach people how to lip-sync while performing acrobatic feats?

However, the key twist in all this: She doesn’t get NEARLY the respect she deserves. None of the current pop divas pay her any fealty. Nobody cares that she’s been around for over 10 years. She’s just a part of the landscape. American Idol wouldn’t boost her career — she doesn’t need the help. But it WOULD boost the legacy. Apparently, she was already approached about it.

But she didn’t want to do it, because she was worried that people wouldn’t like her, because she’d be too mean. I say, in this time of crisis, we need Pink to come in and lay some truth on the youth of America. And again, I think we’d be getting her at just the right time. She’s been a pop star for over a decade. She knows that you can’t be a pop star for a decade — she’s smart. So now, at the exact right moment, she graduates into Kenobi status, inspires a new generation, AND gets the legacy-boost on all her future songs. And if it fails: So what? It’s all a net positive for her.

With her covering pop, you need somebody backing her up who comes from hip-hop. And not Nicki Minaj hip-hop that is basically pop: You need someone who can f—ing RAP, like, who could feasibly get up onstage for a rap battle with a contestant who gets out of line. (ASIDE: Yes, American Idol will need to welcome rappers.) The best candidate would be Kanye West, obviously, because — much like Pink — his music taste is very eclectic. However, since Pink is already a big star, I think you’d be wise to get someone who’s less big, but way more respectable: Someone like Mos Def or Common, two great hip-hop artists who have tried to be actors, and are JUST CHARISMATIC ENOUGH as crappy actors that you get the vibe they’d be great on reality shows.

What’s that you say? This judging panel is too niche? Too rude? Too in-your-face? That’s why you back up Pink and Mos Def with one of the least threatening, most popular, nicest, and most middle-American artists in history.




Seriously, just watch this acceptance speech and try not to tear up:

He’s basically Randy Jackson plus Blake Shelton.

(I’m trying really hard not to work on my Fast & Furious story.)


Okay, name your own picks! Who will judge this beautiful disaster?

Full ‘American Idol’ recap: The Judges Lie 23 Times

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

Which 2013 ‘American Idol’ judge is your favorite? — POLL

All ‘American Idol’ recaps on

Mariah Carey gets the Nicki Minaj phone call: An ‘Up Out My Face’ dramatization