Fox says no contracts signed for new American Idol judges, but dodged questions say a lot

American Idol 10‘s judging panel will be announced by mid-September, when their round of the auditions begin, but no deals have been signed with new judges or with producer Nigel Lythgoe yet, an executive just announced to TV critics gathered in Los Angeles. Reports and conversation here among journalists suggest Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez will replace Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell, and perhaps Kara DioGuardi.

Still, there was no official word. Fox chair Peter Rice said that he could say with “absolute certainty that no one has signed a deal yet” to appear on the show, both on-camera and behind-the-scenes. In other words, Nigel Lythgoe isn’t confirmed to return yet, although he probably will.

Some rumors, he said, are accurate, and some are “wildly inaccurate,” but despite many attempts by critics, they wouldn’t say anything about the show, including whether there will be three or four judges. Rice did say they “truly wish we were going to walk out a panel of judges. … I’m really sorry that’s not going to happen. If we would have signed deals, we would have done that.”

They refused to address questions about Kara DioGuardi’s future on the show, which is probably an indication that she’s gone–otherwise, why not say, “We love our judges, we’re just working on replacing Simon and now Ellen.” Rice also said that they were assembling “a panel that has great chemistry together,” so read into that whatever you want.

Rice also said that Ellen’s departure was announced last week so executives didn’t have to pretend she’d still be on the show. He said Ellen DeGeneres met with Fox in early June and “tried to persuade her it would be different in the future.” He also said “we felt confident that could come up with a panel that didn’t include Ellen as a judge,” which suggests more of an overhaul than just replacing Simon and/or Ellen.

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