Ellen DeGeneres has a five-year deal to judge American Idol, but reaction is mixed

Last night’s surprising news that Ellen DeGeneres would replace Paula Abdul as the fourth judge on American Idol was in the works for “the last couple of weeks,” Ellen told the studio audience of her daytime talk show for the episode that airs today.

Ellen broke the news to them shortly before Fox broke it on Twitter and sent out a press release, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reports that Ellen “signed a five-year deal for ‘American Idol’ and extended her contract to host her talk show through 2014.”

She also told her audience, “Hopefully, I’m the people’s point of view, because I’m just like you. I sit at home and I watch it and I don’t have that technical [eye]. … I’m not looking at it in a critical way from the producer’s mind. I’m looking at it as a person who is going to buy the music and is going to relate to that person. So I’m hopefully going to be that voice of what we’re all doing at home.”

That’s an interesting way of framing her participation, since she has pretty much zero connection to music or the music industry. She also doesn’t have much judging experience. This summer, Ellen guest judged So You Think You Can Dance, and Tanner Stransky wrote in Entertainment Weekly, “could you really call her a judge? I enjoyed seeing one of America’s most beloved comics at the judges’ table as much as the next person, but you have to admit: DeGeneres didn’t really add much in the way of critique to the show.”

Most negative fan response seems to focus on that appearance, but perhaps she learned something from that experience and/or the reaction to it. And really, although Paula Abdul was re-energized as a result of Kara DioGuardi’s presence at the judges’ table, let’s not pretend that she offered consistently insightful thoughts about the performances from the perspective of an artist. When she wasn’t babbling, she was usually being blindly supportive, and Ellen can’t do worse than that.

Other reaction to her selection has been mixed. MJ Santilli asked, “So, is she going to be a real judge or some kind of joke? She’s a comedian, not a singer or a musician. I’m kinda flummoxed here.” The St. Petersburg Times’ Eric Deggans says Ellen “is bound to improve the chemistry on Idol’s increasingly tangled judge’s array” although he’s skeptical because “[s]he doesn’t have anything to do with the music industry.” And Andy Cohen seems to be perplexed (“I love her, but I don’t GET it”), unless he’s talking about something completely different.

Others are more enthusiastic. Alan Sepinwall says “her relentless enthusiasm makes her not only an ideal replacement for Paula, but an improvement” although he says “four judges is one too many.” Tom Vickers, a music consultant, told USA TODAY this is “a smart move. She’s got a huge fan base and a feel for music. … She’ll fill the cheerleader role Paula had, but from a true fan’s perspective.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Seacrest seemed vaguely hurt that he was left out of the announcement hoopla, writing on Twitter, “Wow all went down fast.” He added that “she and paula are both very good friends of mine.” Awesome. Now maybe you can stop making gay jokes with Simon Cowell.

‘American Idol': Ellen DeGeneres to replace Paula Abdul as judge [Los Angeles Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.