Tuned In

What the Ellen? Idol Replaces Paula With DeGeneres

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Yep, she’s the 4th judge.

Word came tonight that American Idol is reportedly hiring Ellen DeGeneres as the permanent judge to replace Paula Abdul. It seems like a smart decision. Is it the right decision?

My first reaction was: surprise, bogglement and skepticism. Which honestly, probably means that it’s an excellent choice, at least from the standpoint of getting viewers.

Here’s what Ellen brings to the table. She’s a star—a bigger star than Paula, which I’m sure was the point. People like her. They know her. (Sorry, Kara.) She’s funny, entertaining and telegenic. She’s a professional performer, a general enthusiast and fan, and opinionated. She can string a sentence together, off the cuff, and make you want to listen to it.

Now—humor me here—is she musically qualified to judge? Well, this is American Idol… what is qualified? The snarky answer is that Paula wasn’t, either. But let’s be fair: Paula, whatever you thought of Straight Up or her actual vocals, was an actual musical performer on stage. If she was a packaged star, well, what is an American Idol winner?

Ellen, unless she has some pop-career past I’m forgetting does not have that, even though she’s obviously a seasoned performer. But what do the rest of us, by the millions, do every week in the spring? We judge American Idol from our own seats. We judge as listeners and consumers—and that’s a slot that the music pros Simon, Randy and Kara don’t fill.

In fact, in retrospect, a great idea might have been to make the (superfluous) fourth judge slot a seasonlong guest spot, with an Ellen-caliber celebrity filling the chair for a year. But Idol didn’t go that route, so instead, Ellen DeGeneres will be on the panel to represent the perspective of all us musical non-pros.

In which case, she’s probably as flattened by the news of her hiring as I was.