After months of rumors, leaks and obsessive media speculation, the new "American Idol" judges were revealed Wednesday: Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson will fill out the panel on the upcoming 10th season of Fox's megahit.
The panel's makeup is pretty much as expected, in large part because Nigel Lythgoe's wish didn't come true — the returning executive producer had openly courted Elton John, but the rock legend obviously couldn't square the gig with his schedule, or just wasn't interested.
Lythgoe told TheWrap that he's hopeful John may appear as a guest judge in season 10.
"Elton is always welcome, I'm sure he'll pop in if he's about," Lythgoe said. (Photo of the new panel by Movieline.)
Another tweak for this season: Record producer Jimmy Iovine (below, right) will be an on-camera mentor to the contestants.
Lopez, whose flagging music and film career was in need of a jolt, made the most of her deal, which includes a first-look agreement for her company, Nuyorican Productions, with both 20th Century Fox Films and Fox Broadcasting Company.
The judges were named by longtime host Ryan Seacrest during a staged event held before the "Idol" auditions at the Forum in Los Angeles.
The search for new "Idol" judges began in January when British music mogul Simon Cowell announced that season nine of the show would be his last. Cowell is one of the executive producers of "Idol" and had been on its panel since the show's debut in 2002. He left in order to work on the reality talent competition "X Factor," which will debut on Fox in 2011.
His exit was followed this summer by the departures of comedienne Ellen DeGeneres and KaraDioGuardi. DioGuardi joined the original trio of "Idol" judges — Cowell, Jackson and singer Paula Abdul, in season eight. DeGeneres came on board for season nine after Abdul left the show, reportedly after seeking a raise.
Lopez and Tyler have both been in talks with "American Idol" brass for many weeks and their names have been leaked by various media outlets at several points during the protracted negotiations, thoughg Fox has consistently refused to comment.
"Idol" is produced for Fox by 19 Entertainment, and FremantleMedia. Multiple people close to the show have told TheWrap that the judge-selection process has been overseen and tightly controlled by a small group of high-level execs from all three companies — Cowell, Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Fox entertainment president Peter Rice and the network's president of alternative programming Mike Darnell.
Throughout the summer, even as the names of the judges leaked in the press, the "Idol" inner circle refused to comment on the speculation surrounding the show and remained tightlipped about the search.
In a press conference held after the big reveal at the Forum, Darnell said the negotiations with Lopez and Tyler revolved around "scheduling and dates."
"Idol" could benefit greatly from buzz generated from the selection of new judges. The changing of the guard at the "Idol" judges' table came at a difficult time for the show. While still a ratings powerhouse, "Idol" has suffered from declining numbers in recent years and the most recent season was widely panned.
The big question this year is whether the new team can right the ship at "Idol" without Cowell, whose acerbic comments have been a defining feature of the series. At the press conference, Lythgoe said he wanted the new judges to focus on the contestants "not ratings." Lythgoe also expressed confidence in his new team.
"Steven is great and he's madly in love with Jennifer — I'm anxious to see how that develops," Lythgoe told TheWrap.
On Monday, a high-ranking "Idol" production staffer told TheWrap that the show's producers hope the show will get a lift from the summer-long media circus surrounding the judge search and the on-stage antics of Tyler and Lopez.
"The only thing I know about the Steven Tyler thing is, they think he'll be a train wreck and that always works on live TV … The J-Lo thing is OK … people will care what she wears and she's a bit of a ditz at times … Simon was the show as far as I am concerned … So many things changing it's gonna be a rocky year. They'll attempt to create as much controversy as possible … it keeps people watching," the staffer said.
That strategy is probably sound. Curiosity around Tyler and Lopez should provide at least some ratings boost and, even in decline, "Idol" still draws a crowd. Either way, Fox has "X Factor" waiting in the wings.
"Whatever happens they know they have 'X Factor' looming, and that will be the show that probably takes over and 'Idol' will slip away. 'X' is Fox and Fremantle, so unless it really sucks … they're covered," said the staffer who spoke to TheWrap.
Season 10 of "American Idol" premieres in 2011.