'Idol' Looks for a Boost With Slate of Celebrity Guests

What Everyone Is Talking About

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Are you ready for the return of "American Idol"? Fox is, as it started to roll out pictures of new judge Ellen DeGeneres. The comedienne and talk-show host will be joining Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi and Simon Cowell at the judges table this year, to replace longtime presence Paula Abdul. Abdul abruptly quit last summer -- via Twitter -- after a dispute over renewing her contract did not go the way she wanted it to.

HERE COMES THE JUDGE: Ellen DeGeneres will take her seat at the 'American Idol' table.
HERE COMES THE JUDGE: Ellen DeGeneres will take her seat at the 'American Idol' table.
So Ellen will be the permanent fixture, but watch out for "Idol" to turn up the star power as the auditions progress. The rotating roster of guest judges is set to include Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Joe Jonas, Neil Patrick Harris, Shania Twain and Kristin Chenoweth.

The show has seemed to be in need a revamp anyway, as ratings have slipped in the past few years. Since "Idol" launched in 2002 and managed to snag over 22 million viewers for its finale that year, ratings steadily climbed to a peak of 37.7 million average viewers for the sixth season in 2007. The last two seasons lost a little bit of momentum, with about 33.4 million tuning in for the seventh season and about 30.4 million for the eighth.

It's still one of the biggest TV audiences around, but after last season there was a lot of chatter about whether or not the show was getting a bit shopworn and curiosity about whether Fox could keep the momentum going for the new season starting this week.

Of course, the other chatter around the show is whether executive producer and star judge Cowell will remain with "Idol" past this season. Contract talks must have hit some sort of snag, since Cowell's brother let it be known on his podcast that Simon would not be renewing his contract so he could concentrate on his global singing competition show, "The X Factor" and possibly even launch it here in the U.S. Word then quickly got out that if he were to do so, Piers Morgan, the caustic judge of "America's Got Talent," was a favorite to replace him.

One imagines both parties in the negotiations will be watching the ratings this week to see just how much juice is left to squeeze out of this blockbuster.

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