New ‘Idol’ Top 12: Fantasy Candidates to Fill Simon’s Seat


The announcement that Simon Cowell would bring his televised talent show ‘The X Factor’ to Fox in 2011 – and therefore be departing ‘American Idol’ – wasn’t surprising, but it did raise some eyebrows – in part because between ‘Idol,’ ‘X Factor,’ and the just-announced talent search for new ‘Glee’ cast members, Fox will have a lot of warbling hopefuls on its airwaves during the next 18 months.

But a bigger question for the show is this: Who will take Simon’s place on the show’s panel of judges?

“He is irreplacable,” says Fox chairman Peter Rice. “We’re not going to try to find a Simon clone to do what he does, because he’s one of a kind.”

Very true indeed. But someone needs to fill the void, so here’s our dream list of picks:

Ryan Seacrest. What better way to celebrate the most over-employed man in America than to give him two jobs on the same show? (Of course, if he balks at pulling both host duty and judging duty simultaneously, the ‘Idol’ producers could always bring back original co-host Brian Dunkleman.)

Joel McHale. The acerbic wit he brings to ‘The Soup‘ every week certainly matches Simon’s pH levels, although his lack of music industry bona fides might be an issue. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to watch him insult Seacrest in person?

Ben Folds. His just-completed stint on NBC’s acapella competition ‘The Sing-Off‘ had observers raving about his ability to be both critical and constructive. Bonus: Maybe he could bring in Weird Al Yankovic to help out with the direction of those Ford ads!

Kelly Clarkson. More Kelly is always a good thing in the eyes of this observer – although if her Idol-judging duties get in the way of her recording more albums, we?ll respectfully withdraw this suggestion.

Justin Guarini. He’s currently hosting Idol Wrap and Idol Tonight on the TV Guide Channel, and a move to the judges’ table would be not unlike a ballplayer being called up to the pros from Triple-A. But would his past experiences on the ‘Idol’ stage result in him being too nice?

Sharon Osbourne. Pro: She has a slew of music industry bona fides and experience judging wannabe stars on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Con: She might try and snag any contestant with a vague rock leaning for Ozzfest.

Ian “Dicko” Dickerson. Last seen here (by a few people) during the short-lived ‘Idol’ spinoff ‘The Next Great American Band,’ this tart-tongued Australian could be the Tabatha Coffey to Cowell’s Gordon Ramsay.

Sheila E. The Prince collaborator and drummer showed her judging prowess during her stint on ‘The Next Great American Band,’ and she has Simon’s intimate knowledge of the music industry. The one possible problem: Her warmer, almost-motherly persona might be too similar to the Ms. Nice Guy attitude that will apparently be embodied by new judge Ellen DeGeneres.

Conan O’Brien. Hey, FOX is very interested in snagging him. And he’d give DeGeneres a run for her funny money.

Sanjaya Malakar. His early exit from Season Six might make his presence on the judges’ panel somewhat controversial. But no matter how much flack he’d have to take from outraged viewers, an ‘Idol’ judgeship would be a step up from eating bugs and dealing with Speidi.

Andy Monk. You may not know his name, but he’s apparently Britain’s No. 1 Simon Cowell impersonator! And if the zingers are still up to par, how many people will really know the difference?

Nobody. Some observers (including this one) think that the show suffered when it went to the four-judge format last year – the focus shifted away from the contestants and toward the entrenched music-business types behind the Coca-Cola cups, leaving one to wonder just what the point of the show was supposed to be. While having only a panel of Kara DioGuardi, Randy Jackson, and DeGeneres might result in the show being defanged, the increased focus on the singers would be more than welcome. (And surely the producers would include more unfortunate auditions from the competition?s early stages so the season’s overall snark factor would remain high!)

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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